NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 22, 2008

The more diverse America becomes, the more homogeneous it becomes, is the thesis of "The Big Sort," Bill Bishop's rich and challenging book about the ways in which the citizens of this country have, in the past generation, rearranged themselves into discrete enclaves that have little to say to one another and little incentive to bother trying.  "As Americans have moved over the past three decades," Bishop proclaims, "they have clustered in communities of sameness, among people with similar ways of life, beliefs and in the end, politics."

For example:

  • In 1976, less than a quarter of the American people lived in so-called "landslide counties" -- that is, counties in which the spread between the two major presidential candidates was 20 percentage points or more.
  • By 2004, nearly half of us lived in this kind of politically tilted territory.

How could this be?  It isn't gerrymandering.  Nobody redraws the boundaries of a county every 10 years; they often stay the same for a century.  Nor does it have much to do with natural population increase, which might push one group or another into a new proportional dominance within a certain geographical area.  As it happens, there has been relatively little population growth in most parts of the country.

Why has this been occurring in recent years and not before?  Resorting is what happens when individuals in a society become more affluent, better educated and freer to make their own personal and political choices, says Bishop.  The Big Sort has been a form of escape.  As the country attracts more and more immigrants, and as large metropolitan areas become multiracial and multilingual, people feel a strong desire to retreat to the safety of smaller communities where they can live among those who look, think and behave like themselves.

Source: Alan Ehrenhalt, "Like-Minded, Living Nearby," Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2008; based upon: Bill Bishop, "The Big Sort," Houghton Mifflin, May 7, 2008.

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