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The Geography Of Ideological Partisanship

It turns out that a well-known stereotype is true:

“Imagine for a moment,” Pew proposed, “that you are moving to another community.”

Would you like to live in the kind of place where the houses are relatively small and close together but the schools, stores and restaurants are a short walk away? Or would you prefer the kind of community where the houses are large and far apart, but the amenities several miles off?

With disquieting predictability, 10,013 adults — respondents in the largest survey the Pew Research Center has ever conducted on political attitudes — answered according to their ideology. Seventy-seven percent of “consistently liberal” adults went with what sounded like the urban milieu: the dense neighborhood, the compact home, the “walkability.” Fully seventy-five percent of “consistently conservative” adults went with the polar opposite.

Emily Badger, who writes this take on the Pew study, says it’s not entirely clear whether the ideologue makes the place, or the place makes the ideologue:

Does ideology inform our living choices, or is it the other way around? Do liberals move to cities because cities happen to have the things that liberals like: dense amenities, cultural institutions, greater diversity? (73 percent of consistent liberals said museums and theaters were important to them in deciding where to live; just 23 percent of consistent conservatives said the same. The split is even wider on the question of ethnic and racial diversity.)

Or do people who happen to live in cities because they value those things come to lean liberal thanks to other concerns inherent in that way of living?

Interestingly, that Pew study finds that few people prefer the suburbs. They’d rather live in the city, in a small town, or in the country. The suburbs are unpopular. But half the country lives in suburbs. 

Here’s a link to the new Pew study, which focuses on political polarization in America. In this massive survey, Pew finds that it really is true that Americans have become more ideologically polarized on left-right lines. But Pew also discovers that most Americans don’t see other Americans according to this black-and-white view:

The majority do not have uniformly conservative or liberal views. Most do not see either party as a threat to the nation. And more believe their representatives in government should meet halfway to resolve contentious disputes rather than hold out for more of what they want.

Yet many of those in the center remain on the edges of the political playing field, relatively distant and disengaged, while the most ideologically oriented and politically rancorous Americans make their voices heard through greater participation in every stage of the political process.

… On measure after measure – whether primary voting, writing letters to officials, volunteering for or donating to a campaign – the most politically polarized are more actively involved in politics, amplifying the voices that are the least willing to see the parties meet each other halfway.

So, politics belongs to those who are most engaged, and the ones who are most engaged are the hard-core, among whom are many haters. Look at this:

Beyond the rise in ideological consistency, another major element in polarization has been the growing contempt that many Republicans and Democrats have for the opposing party. To be sure, disliking the other party is nothing new in politics. But today, these sentiments are broader and deeper than in the recent past.

In 1994, hardly a time of amicable partisan relations, a majority of Republicans had unfavorable impressions of the Democratic Party, but just 17% had very unfavorable opinions. Similarly, while most Democrats viewed the GOP unfavorably, just 16% had very unfavorable views. Since then, highly negative views have more than doubled: 43% of Republicans and 38% of Democrats now view the opposite party in strongly negative terms.

The geography of partisanship means that one is less likely ever to see the faces or hear the voices of those who fundamentally disagree with them on politics. An abstraction is always easier to hate than a real person.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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