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The Gazillion Bubble Show

Earlier today I was on a segment of Al Jazeera’s talk show, “The Stream,” discussing political polarization, social media’s role in promoting it, and possible ways to combat it.

My view in a nutshell: just as social media has enabled previously isolated people to find kindred spirits, and hence has fostered new communities and a new sense of belonging, it has made it easier to live in an informational bubble in which you only hear from the like-minded. But I don’t think this is anything more than a surface layer on top of something much deeper. We are increasingly polarized because of social, economic and political trends that have developed over 30-50 years, from the ideological sorting of the parties (and the distinct problems that sorting creates for our political institutions, which depend on a certain level of cross-partisan comity to function properly), to the rise of alternative conservative media, to globalization and the consequent deindustrialization of America and rise of a transnational elite, to . . . well, it’s a long list. And it’ll take a lot more than a cute app to counteract all that.

One point I didn’t make forcefully enough on the program is that we are increasingly polarized in the real world, not just on line. It’s not just that conservatives and liberals only talk to the like-minded, or that we’re all spending so much time on line that we don’t encounter people in meatspace anymore. It’s that increasingly we only live near the like-minded, politically-speaking.

David Wassermam at Fivethirtyeight.com has a very sobering piece [1] on the subject up today, that is well worth a read:

Of the nation’s 3,113 counties (or county equivalents), just 303 were decided by single-digit margins — less than 10 percent. In contrast, 1,096 counties fit that description in 1992, even though that election featured a wider national spread.1 [2] During the same period, the number of extreme landslide counties — those decided by margins exceeding 50 percentage points — exploded from 93 to 1,196, or over a third of the nation’s counties.

Sure, it’s people who vote, not counties — and it’s not quite fair to give equal weight to Los Angeles County, California (pop. 10 million, 76 percent Clinton), and Loving County, Texas (pop. 112, 94 percent Trump). But a more equitable way to measure this “big sort [3]” is to track the share of all American voters living in polarized communities over time. And 2016 was off the charts (figuratively speaking; it’s on the chart below):

The electorate’s move toward single-party geographic enclaves has been particularly pronounced at the extremes. Between 1992 and 2016, the share of voters living in extreme landslide counties quintupled from 4 percent to 21 percent.

And remember, this was in a year that, like 1976, scrambled what we think of as the usual party coalitions, with the Democrat doing better than usual in states like Texas and Georgia and the Republican (more significantly) doing better than usual in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. In other words, what on the surface may have looked like an electoral reshuffling was actually a deepening of prior trends turning us into an ideological archipelago of single-party islands.

All of which does not bode well for the future [1]:

In an increasing number of communities like Baldwin County, Alabama, which gave Trump 80 percent of its major-party votes, and San Mateo, California, which gave Clinton 80 percent, an entire generation of youth will grow up without much exposure to alternative political points of view. If you think our political climate is toxic now, think for a moment about how nasty politics could be 20 or 30 years from now.

13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "The Gazillion Bubble Show"

#1 Comment By William Dalton On March 8, 2017 @ 7:34 pm

“In an increasing number of communities like Baldwin County, Alabama, which gave Trump 80 percent of its major-party votes, and San Mateo, California, which gave Clinton 80 percent, an entire generation of youth will grow up without much exposure to alternative political points of view. If you think our political climate is toxic now, think for a moment about how nasty politics could be 20 or 30 years from now.”

You might compare this to the polarization of the nation which was demonstrated by the election of 1860. We know the results from that.

I first had this experience observing, while in high school, the election of 1968. I didn’t understand why people on television were seriously talking about Hubert Humphrey having only closely lost an election in which, to my experience, both in the conversations I heard and our local election results, he finished a poor third.

The statistics you recount from the 2016 election, and the expectation this will be a growing trend, means that every election in America’s future is one in which nearly half the nation will believe the outcome was “hacked”, and the election stolen from their candidate. No one they know will have voted for the winning candidate. If it isn’t the Russians, they will find something else to blame it on.

#2 Comment By John_M On March 9, 2017 @ 1:29 am

I live in a Republican district somewhat to the East of Seattle, although my neighborhood is very highly educated. But I have tried to make sure that my kids are reasonably exposed to differences in opinion – the folks at the rifle club are much different than their teachers at the University. While we get “The Atlantic”, we also get “The Economist” and I pass on interesting commentary from “The American Conservative”, the Niskanen Center, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Brookings. We also get a number of science and engineering journals. My browsing is broader and I will occasionally bring in articles from further afield if the argument and data seem to have merit.

We do not rely upon TV or social networking for news or information. But we do recognize that we are in a very small minority.

#3 Comment By bacon On March 9, 2017 @ 12:30 pm

As William Dalton points out, elections won/lost by relatively few votes, particularly those in which the electoral college overrides the popular vote, leave the losing side suspicious, maybe convinced, the result is fraudulent. Such close elections are also more vulnerable to actual fraud. No one in Washington, Democrat or Republican, actually wants to see their power reduced, regardless what they say in speeches about returning power to the people, but less central government and more state government may be the only way to deal peacefully with the “big sort”.

#4 Comment By Dain On March 9, 2017 @ 4:10 pm

“My browsing is broader and I will occasionally bring in articles from further afield if the argument and data seem to have merit.”

God bless you. It’s an increasingly difficult time to be heterodox, contrarian and independent-minded.

#5 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 9, 2017 @ 9:52 pm

I tend to be very definitive about my views and without reservation or much compromise.

I worked on a campus and I have to say, it’s liberal everything nearly all day long every day. People were shocked to discover that I am a conservative and have always voted Republican. When I say shocked, I don’t mean surprised. I mean repulsed. My position was traitorous. I never dawned on them that anyone would be in academia and be a conservative.

It never dawned on them that my failure to attend anything outside of campus would be a reflection of my conservative viewpoint. Despite an open forum, they never noticed my open opposition to killing children in the womb. They never listened as students asked me about celibacy, once I came out of the closet about it. They considered my reticence in discussion, anything other than submissive catering as opposed to the conservative position that people were entitled to their view.

It never dawned on me that there was a full scale war going on. And the liberals are winning. The divide exists because in academia, the largest farms for producing our educated masses, the expose students at every level a perspective that is not only opposed, but hell bent in destroying the concepts in any manner possible.

What I have learned is that compromising with the minions of liberals never ends. They are never satisfied with one accommodation. They always come back wanting more. And if you decline, your in league with Satan; a misogynist, a mean person, a racist . . . unfeeling, uncaring . . .

So I just dispense with the preliminaries admit that I am all of things by their low, broad all encompassing definitions and hold the line.

Immigrants here illegally — they must go.
Killing children in the womb – no
Relations outside of marriage – no.
Extra credit beyond what in the syllabus – no.
Discussions with defining terms – no.
universal Healthcare – no.
Legal marriage for people engaged in sane se behavior — no – its a dead end and contributes nothing to the general community that warrants it

You begin to sound and feel like a jerk. But the reality is that in liberal wold of relativism, it’ a rock.

#6 Comment By Frank_T On March 10, 2017 @ 9:15 am

Thank you, Noah, for so thoughtfully addressing this huge problem.

I really appreciate how TAC seems to foster a relatively “bubble-free” environment. There is an inherent respect here for people with differing views that seems to be absent in the vast majority of other sites, left or right. Please keep up the good work! 🙂

#7 Comment By Tejano Vicuna On March 10, 2017 @ 11:35 pm

People are sorting themselves out. In my view that’s a good thing, not a problem at all. God knows we’ve had enough of the alienation, homogenization, mediocrity, corruption and meaninglessness of “diversity” and GloboWorld.

Let people live among those with whom they share bonds of sympathy, blood, belief, history, culture. It’s the human way. To each his own tribe. Growing poll margins could be a sign of essential health.

#8 Comment By hamburgertoday On March 11, 2017 @ 9:54 am

Citing 1860 is somewhat alarmist. Prior to the invention of ‘objective journalism’ virtually all media was ‘partisan’ in some sense or another. There were labor union newspapers, ethnic newspapers, etc. These newspapers existed to express the interests of their various constituencies. In today’s parlance, most communities lived in a ‘bubble’ and American endured, thrived even. All that has occurred is a reversion to the mean. Just because some feature of the social, political or economic ‘landscape’ has been that way all your life (or even the life of anyone you know), does not mean that it has always been this way and will always stay ‘the way you found it’. Such is the case with media. If the partisanship-suppressing consensus on political and social affairs has collapsed, there is a reason. Will things turn out badly? Perhaps. But consensus-challenged times are only *visibly* unstable. The instability was always there, just masked by the presentation of a ‘consensus reality’ by so-called ‘objective journalism’ which, once challenged, show itself to be less objective than presented.

#9 Comment By The Autist Formerly Known as “KD” On March 11, 2017 @ 10:41 am

I believe this is a necessary consequence of the shift from ideological politics to identity politics. Further, all factors on the ground point only to a strengthening of identity politics, meaning the contradictions in our liberal-democracy will only be heightened.

#10 Comment By John Blade Wiederspan On March 13, 2017 @ 11:34 am

EliteComminc. Closed minded is closed minded. Are some, not all liberals, closed minded and immune from doubt? Yes. Sounds like you are closed minded and immune from doubt. Therefore, best get that mote out of your own eye. Or. Pick your enemies carefully, because you will end up just like them. Looks like it has already happened.

#11 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 13, 2017 @ 7:53 pm

“Closed minded is closed minded.”

The above response is sufficient unto itself. I have plenty of doubts, but nothing above has anything to with motes, specks or logs impairing my vision.
______________

I would not condone my behavior,

If I was responsible for supporting

Immigrants here illegally
Killing children in the womb
Relations outside of marriage
Extra credit beyond what in the syllabus
Discussions with defining terms
universal Healthcare
Legal marriage for people engaged in same sex behavior — no – its a dead end and contributes nothing to the general community that warrants it

I think my position is consistent to my own beliefs.

Based on your response, I doubt you understand the scriptural context of the scripture. I doubt your comprehension for several reasons:

Doubt 1: failure in comprehension

The scriptural reference you are attempting to
make is out context. The scripture is to hypocrisy. One engages in supports or condones behaviors in self but objects to the same in others.

Doubt 2: Failure to apply scripture as intended

It is not a response to merely ignore a failing merely because one has failings. That would make any judgement by any human being on any matter impossible. Now if there is some specific issue noted or any other in which you think and can support hypocrisy, you are certainly welcome to make mention of it. But the above would not be examples of what Christ meant.

Doubt 3: you have adequate knowledge about me to make any assessments about what I have doubts about.

Doubt 4: I doubt you comprehend the meaning of doubt or its impact on belief or practice. A certain stance on any issue does not mean one has no doubts, it simply means that the doubt is not enough to override the position. When I was a young camp director (old camp director) I doubted that some of the groups could make the “trail blazing” excursion to a camp site. However, my doubt did not over ride attempting to meet the goal.

I have little doubt that liberals will ever cease to misapply scripture out its context to make bland personal attacks against people know nothing about.

Now I could be completely wrong about your position as expressed,

but I doubt it.

#12 Comment By ControlE On March 14, 2017 @ 9:53 am

EliteCommInc
I worked on a campus and I have to say, it’s liberal everything nearly all day long every day. People were shocked to discover that I am a conservative and have always voted Republican. When I say shocked, I don’t mean surprised. I mean repulsed. My position was traitorous. I never dawned on them that anyone would be in academia and be a conservative.

That is honestly the complete opposite experience I had as a college student in Kentucky. Between a local community college and a state university I had one openly liberal professor. The rest either refused to discuss political issues, or were openly and vehemently conservative.

I entered college as a registered Republican who had briefly taken part in the Young Republicans club in high school. I was not exactly the stereotypical bleeding heart Freshman. I was berated by one of these professors for “trying to push a liberal agenda in his class”, all because I pointed out that something he was preaching to us (something I think I actually agreed with) was his opinion and not a proven fact, so it was hard to use it as evidence in a definitive statement. I’m a very contrarian person by nature… so that one event started me on the path of actually researching the “other side”, just so I could present contrary opinions to that, and other, conservative professor(s). Today I’m a left-leaning moderate.

My point, is that I think your being surrounded by liberals has less to do with being in academia and more to do with your location. A university in Kentucky mainly hires professors from Kentucky; and those professors, being from Kentucky, are naturally more likely to be conservative.

#13 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 14, 2017 @ 7:55 pm

“That is honestly the complete opposite experience I had as a college student in Kentucky.”

I think it is a valuable observation. Kentucky as opposed to California. I have no issues with others having different experiences. And I could be incorrect, but I think the academic environment has become increasingly liberal as a matter of course and demand, either that or, one engages in self censorship. And to my original position, it’s more than expected.

Noting not only differences in location, but time, region academic leadership, community and how one defines liberal.

As a fairly strict construction of conservative, what I might consider liberal might very well be considered signs of the coming Gestapo.

But to my position, my experience is not merely particular school but academic programs in my field, associations, conferences, etc. So while I can certainly agree that location matters. It matters less when the academic community comes together in various settings professional and otherwise and the mantra is the same. This predominantly the case in the social sciences which have opted for an increasing number of research models that rely heavily on phenomenological research. I accept the value of such research, but it’s limitations are exceeded only by its abuse in application.

As for whether or jot you are left leaning, I can only say, based on your own confession. But other than that nothing on the table would lead me to think you are left leaning.

And I also think it accurate to note what in held as my view as opposed to objective realities, which is corner stone of the liberal bent in academia.

It is the press of the subject as foundation truth or fact as opposed to the its place an an unknown to be filled by theory or personal view. The most obvious case is “homosexuality.” There is not a scintilla of evidence that such behavior is rooted in biology. Yet across the country this is not how the subject matter is handled. It has been accepted as a behavior caused by some innate bio trait, despite the lack of evidence. This kind of treatment of data to form conclusions of fact is in my view liberal.

The careless application of “racism” has been co-opted by the dominant groups to espouse an agenda in no manner reflective of the objective data/experience of two groups in US society. Claiming that womanhood is a form of slavery is and should be an insult to male and females who are descendants of the practice and it subsequent consequence resulting from skin color or genocidal/ethnic cleansing as experience by those we refer to as native to the continent. It’s important because when and if remedy is required that remedy is intended as repair. The current social science agenda of liberals has all but muted and mooted those realities. But the press goes on unabated by reality.

And what has become the marker and harder to pin down is the method by which the discussion on any number of issues is handled. The personal attack has become a hallmark of argument. When in disagreement, a liberal would tend to veer from the subject at hand and challenge the motives, character or ethics of the other. The charge of personal hurt is part and parcel to this form of response. So awful is the persons views that they must be shut out of the discussion. It’s force by any other name. Whether it’s the shout down or the connivances to hinder the others expression. What is clear is that the more liberal one’s views the more it is required to shut out an opposing view, less speech as opposed to more. A review of the articles in TAC of what seems to be a growing practice among some of the countries colleges.

Most of us that engage in discussion can and have on occasion gotten emotional. But when that becomes a primary motivation (how one feels), the content of truth is supplanted by emotional truth which may or may not be accurate as a matter of policy.

None of that diminishes the value of the personal to inter and intrapersonal communications and relations — that is a very different dynamic.

I have little doubt that upon a visit to the institutions you note, I would find them dis-positioned liberally on many issues. It would be nice to be surprised.

I hope my ramblings were not an obtuse response to your own expressed views. If so, it was not intentional.

Appreciated your response.