Are Americans deliberately moving on the side of people who share their politics?
Democrats and Republicans are far less likely to live closer together than they did a generation ago.
This political segregation is a phenomenon that journalist Bill Bishop wrote about in his book The Big Kind, who noted that Americans are increasingly moving to places where neighbors share their political views.
But are they doing it on purpose?
“It may well be that some of them do, but I think from the data, that’s not quite what they do. … It seems that when people move, they are mostly looking for communities that have certain features, like art walks or gun stores Or big box stores or little independent coffee shops, that kind of thing,” says JB Brimes, a visiting lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It may just be that they find places with things they like, and they tend to like things other liberals like, or they like things other conservatives like.”
Brims co-authored a report on political segregation that found clear differences that are not political in nature in the types of societies that appeal to liberals and conservatives.
Liberals who participated in the survey identified political liberalism, racial diversity, public transportation, and a vibrant arts scene as important characteristics of their ideal society. Meanwhile, conservatives value political conservatism, patriotism, many churches, and rural areas when considering ideal places to live.
“We’ve known for a while that liberals tend to favor more urban settings,” Brimes says. “Conservatives want it to feel like a small town and be a little bit more rustic.”
The myth of political sorting?
Samuel Abrams, professor of politics and social sciences at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, does not accept the concept of political self-sorting.
He points to the large numbers of people from liberal states like California, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey who are moving to more conservative states like Florida and Texas.
They go because the taxes are lower and the restrictions are lower. For half a million dollars, instead of a one-bedroom closet like we have here in New York, you can get a sprawling home that probably has a pool, basketball court, and fire pit,” says Abrams.
Large numbers of Californians are moving to Texas at a time when the Lone Star State is making political moves that anger liberals.
“Look at the state’s restrictive abortion laws. … Let’s look at their recent work on abortion or gun control or even redistricting,” says Abrams. “Those positions that the state has taken are in direct opposition to all these progressive liberals suddenly moving in there at the same time. So, I don’t think geography is really driving a lot of this.”
A report from Texas A&M University found that the largest share of people who moved to Texas came from California and most settled in liberal-leaning Texas counties.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt says it is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic is driving the increasing political triage.
“We’ve been hearing a lot about that during COVID. In New York and California, a lot of people from the center-right are leaving because they can’t afford the social policies and the COVID policies,” says Haidt, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business. “So, there’s definitely a movement. From New York and California to Texas and Florida they are driven not only by weather, but also by politics, by the desire to be where they are not awake.”
Real estate brokerage Redfin expects more people to move to places aligned with their political beliefs in 2022. A survey conducted by the company showed that a large percentage of homebuyers would not move to a place where laws conflict with their political beliefs.
Haidt expects to see more political triage now that more Americans than ever have the option of virtual action.
Many people wonder what they did before. Many people now have the freedom to work remotely and live wherever they want. So, my prediction is that (journalist) Bill Bishop’s thesis about the “big kind” is more valid in the aftermath of COVID,” Haidt says. “Given how much things have intensified in the last few years, even before COVID, under (former President Donald) Trump And now, with COVID, affecting our lives far more than the political arguments used to influence them, I would expect that political triage has increased.”
Bishop noted in his book that while America is more diverse than ever, the places where many Americans live are actually becoming less diverse, as people move into communities made up of people who think and vote as they do.
This separation could lead to an increase in hatred between conservatives and liberals.
“Because liberals don’t see conservatives as much, and conservatives don’t see liberals as much in person and you don’t encounter them as much, either online or in person, and that certainly, I say, contributes to the political polarization, because we see these people as less human. We understand how they think less,” Or we hear their arguments less,” Brimes says. “We know that putting people in communities where everyone thinks the same thing leads to these echo chambers where people tend to become more extreme.”
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