I don’t think it is any surprise to most folks that America remains largely segregated along racial lines nearly 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1965. While race and racism play a part in this, by far the majority of self-segregation falls within the sphere of tribalism. Well to do black folks self-segregate in communities in the Washington DC area and Atlanta, and white segregate themselves in the suburbs. That tribalism has a lot more to do with the culture you grew up with in most cases than any dislike of other folks. In all but exceedingly rare case, nobody is going to stop a black family with the means from living in the ‘burbs, nor are black folks going to stop whites or anyone else from moving into any of the new black enclaves.
Whites in this country have developed an entire political movement, which at it’s core is a belief in a return to the “golden age” of the 50’s. Black folks don’t have many fond memories of pre-segregation America – and while the cars, music, and some of the entertainers of the period may foster fond memories, there is no desire whatsoever to return to the societal context or economic realities. That is, and fundamentally always will be a schism between the right in American politics and black folks.
Developing more recently is an even more dangerous hyper-segregation – that between folks on the left and folks on the right. The article below characterizes it as urbanized versus suburban – but I don’t think that is entirely accurate because there are suburban communities which reliably vote left. While there aren’t any major urban areas which vote right – that probably is more a result of the impact of minority voters.
Political and marketing analysts figured out some years ago that they could predict your political alignment by whether you shopped or ate at Walmart of Cracker Barrel – or sipped lattes at Starbucks, and provisioned at Whole Foods.
That political schism, now seems also to define where people want to live.
When weary voters saw the news that Washington had struck a bipartisan deal on the debt ceiling, it’s doubtful that many of them took out stationery to write Congress a thank-you note; it’s not clear how many of us even believed it had happened. Last week, according to a Pew Research Center survey, a whopping 72 percent described the recent negotiations in disparaging terms such as ridiculous,disgusting, stupid, and frustrating. Long before the last-minute, $2.1 trillion deal, voters had thrown their hands up in despair at the extremely polarized state of our politics.
Most of us are simply asking, “How did we get here?” Everyone has a favorite explanation, with some citing the role of cable news in egging on partisans, and others blaming the bums in office who more often fraternize with ideologically allied interest groups than with members across the aisle.
More voters might want to just look down their own street: Something remarkable has happened in the last two decades. As Bill Bishop, a professor at the University of Texas (Austin) observed in his 2008 book,The Big Sort, increasingly transient Americans have clustered into politically like-minded neighborhoods to an unprecedented degree. It’s not shocking that voters are choosing to live alongside neighbors who share their cultural values, but this choice makes opposing points of view seem more alien, suspicious, even threatening. In a growing number of congressional districts, it also means that the primary has supplanted November as the “real” election.
Seven years ago, in assessing the red/blue divide of the 2004 election, this column observed that the worlds of Starbucks and Wal-Mart seemed almost mutually exclusive. Today, with both retail chains more ubiquitous, a voter’s proximity to Whole Foods versus a Cracker Barrel is probably a better partisan predictor (try finding a Whole Foods in Mississippi or a Cracker Barrel in Seattle). All the way down to the neighborhood level, strong evidence shows that this geographic homogenization is real and has serious consequences.
A recent study of Virginia precinct data by The Cook Political Report found that in the 1996 presidential election, 56 percent of voters lived in neighborhoods that voted within 10 points, in either direction, of the statewide result. Over the next three elections, this percentage steadily declined, and by the 2008 election, just 41 percent of voters lived in neighborhoods that fell within this swing range, a remarkable 15-point drop. The demise of the “swing precinct” was just as dramatic in off-year gubernatorial races over the same period.
This pattern is repeating all over the country, as socioeconomic gaps widen: Diversifying inner suburbs are becoming safely Democratic, and heavily white outer and rural areas are growing even more Republican.
Independent voters are the big losers, even though the latest Gallup data indicate that a plurality of voters do not identify with either party. The partisans in their midst, however, increasingly tend to be of one party only, not a mix. So in more districts, independent voters who crave compromise are held hostage by crusaders on the right or the left posturing for a primary election….