In today's column David Brooks buys into the idea that the U.S. is rapidly segregating into political islands:
"The political result is that Republican places become more Republican and Democratic places become more Democratic.
Between 1948 and 1976, most counties in the U.S. became more closely divided between Republicans and Democrats. In 1976, Gerald Ford, a Republican, could win most of New England and the entire Pacific coast, and he almost won New York.
But since then we've been segregating politically. As Bill Bishop of The Austin American-Statesman has found, the number of counties where one party or another has a landslide majority has doubled over the past quarter-century. Whole regions are now solidly Democratic or Republican. Nearly three-quarters of us, according to Bishop, live in counties that are becoming less competitive, and many of us find ourselves living in places that are overwhelmingly liberal or overwhelmingly conservative.
But as I show in my article, "Red and Blue Scare", there's not much evidence to back up these claims. First, it's true that the number of landslide counties has doubled, but this is only if you look at the two-party vote. By excluding the votes of third-party candidates, you artificially raise the number of landslide counties. Looking only at the absolute percentage of the vote, only about 36 percent of the voters in the 2000 election lived in these counties. To be sure, this percent is higher than in 1976, another close election when only 27 percent of voters lived in landslide counties, but the difference is not huge. Furthermore, other measures of political segregation show that most Americans live in relatively diverse areas where they have a great deal of interaction with members of the opposite political party.
Finally, there's no evidence for Brooks's claim that the trend toward greater political segregation (such as it is) is self-reinforcing. If this were true, the Solid South would be more solid than ever. Indeed, the United States would have long ago divided permanently into the two separate and exclusive political camps that Brooks prophesizes.