Have you heard about the great political divide that sets red against blue—the national polarization touted by breathless news stories about an already pretty gasp-y report by the Pew Research Center? "Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines—and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive—than at any point in the last two decades," according to Pew. And while I suspect the divide is at least as much about tribal identity as it is about actual differences in ideology, it doesn't take much more than that to get people thoroughly pissed at each other.
In fact, reports Pew, Team Red and Team Blue don't even want to live near each other. "People on the right and left also are more likely to say it is important to them to live in a place where most people share their political views." It's not just ideology—the kinds of communities the teams prefer are at odds, with liberals favoring walkable urban settings and conservatives favoring roomier suburban and rural communities.
Wait a minute. Frankly, this seem to be a problem that can easily solve itself.
The phenomenon of political groups congregating with one another and away from the opposition has been reported upon before.
"The places where we live are becoming increasingly crowded with people who live, think, and vote like we do," Bill Bishop noted in his 2008 book, The Big Sort. In a country driven by personal choice, he claimed, one thing Americans have been choosing to do is to live among the like-minded—and at a distance from those holding opposing views.
The new Pew report suggests that this phenomenon continues, fueled by preference for different lifestyles that happen to line up with political tribal affiliations. Both Pew and Bishop warn of dire consequences as a result.
But…How is this a problem? If people with common preferences and values choose to live near one another, shouldn't that reduce friction? At least, this seems like an excellent way to minimize conflicts over policies, so long as most policy choices are made at local levels by all of these like-minded people clustering together.
On the other hand, centralizing decision making defeats much of the purpose of clustering together, since people inevitably get unwelcome policies foisted on them by those awful people who live incomprehensible lives elsewhere.
Political sorting is actually a solution to deep ideological divides—if that sorting lets people live the way they want. But if people go through all of that trouble of moving away from the opposition, only to find alien rules, laws, and taxes jammed down their throats, you can see why "partisan antipathy" might get a little heated.
Today, Ron Bailey noted that research finds libertarian-minded people to be exceptionally smart. Which may be why we're able to tolerate the foibles of our annoying liberal and conservative neighbors.