The growing divide

Bill Bishop has a series begun called The Great Divide. It's really great stuff, very in-depth and statistically backed. Not the kind of shallow commentary that we usually get from the Red-Blue crapola that's served up. The site has got a registration, but worth the feed of whatever demo's you want to give.

Here's a few of his points in a latest:

The fastest growing kind of segregation in the United States isn't racial. It is the segregation between Republicans and Democrats.

The political division found by the Statesman and its statistical consultant, Robert Cushing, is a change from the recent past. From the end of World War II until the mid-1970s, U.S. counties became more and more politically mixed, based on presidential voting. Through the 1950s and '60s, Americans were more likely to live in a community with an even mixture of Republicans and Democrats.

In 1976, when Democrat Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford by only two percentage points, 26.8 percent of American voters lived in counties with landslide presidential election results, where one party had 60 percent or more of the vote.

Twenty-four years and six presidential elections later, when George Bush and Al Gore were virtually tied nationally, 45.3 percent of voters lived in a landslide county.

And from Timothy Noah on Slate:
Bishop blames this heightened partisanship on the proliferation of "landslide counties." He defines a landslide county as one in which the presidential nominee of one party receives at least 60 percent of the vote. In 1976, 26.8 percent of American voters lived in landslide counties. By 2000, that proportion had nearly doubled, to 45.3 percent.

And it's getting worse. The GOP has a lot more landslide counties where the partisan imbalance continues to widen (939) than do the Democrats (158). But because the Democrats' landslide counties are much likelier to be more populous urban counties, the aggregate number of growing-landslide-county Democrats (15.2 million, or 14 percent of the national vote) comes out roughly the same as the aggregate number of growing-landslide-county Republicans (16.5 million, or 16 percent of the national vote).

On Bishop's blog, a reader notes that the statistics speak of voters, not residents, and this is a valid point. Who knows what 51% of the other people believe? It makes sense, not wanting to participate in a system of de facto minority defeats, that they don't even bother to vote if they live on the opposite side in a landslide county. If they did bother, the first thing they'd probably choose to do, if they could, would be to move to a place where their partisan vote wasn't so frustrated.

Thanks to Mathew Langer for the heads-up. As noted recently, this partisan divide is probably responsible for the continuing trend of The Great Opt-Out as well.

Number of what on the rise?

Harris has been measuring the number of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents every year since 1969. I've been chewing over the latest annual polling of Party ID for a month, what's it mean?

In 1969, 32% called themselves Republican, 49% Democrat, 19% Independent, and 0% claimed other/not sure. That was the peak Democrat period. The peak Independent period was in 1979, when 31% claimed Independent, 41% Democrat, 22% Republican, and 6% claimed other/not sure. The peak Republican period was in 1990, when 33% claimed Republican, 38% claimed Democrat, 25% claimed Independent, and 4% claimed other/not sure.

The partisan difference of 1990 showed Democrats with a 5% lead, and in December, 13 years later, Democrats still have a 5% lead. However, all three have dropped. Those calling themselves Republican has dropped to 28%, Democrat to 33%, and Independent to 24%. The number of those claiming other/not sure has risen to 15% for 2003. In fact, this number is increasing significantly over the past decade:

Other/Not sure

2003: 15%
2002: 11%
2001: 11%
2000: 11%
1999: 9%
1998: 8%
1997: 8%
1996: 6%

And on it goes, to 0% in 1969. People claim that we are in a most polarized state of the union, but it's not that simple. Republican and Democrat support has dropped 4% and 16% respectively since 1969, now totaling an all-time low 61% of those claiming a partisan identification. In that same period, the number of those claiming themselves Independent has risen 5%, and the number of those claiming other/not sure has risen to 15%, for a total of 39% that are opting out of the polarization.

This is significant, especially in terms of thinking about 2004. Right now, those 39% have no alternative than to choose a side. However, I wouldn't be shocked to see an alternative candidate come in to fill the void. It's hard to imagine such a person, given the percieved polarization of the debate, but a significant number of people have already opted out, in fact, they have the plurality lead.

What it also might mean, and a number of writers have argued this from both sides, is that this plurality of those not siding with either the Republican or Democrat identification are in the process of re-alignment with either of the parties. Republicans would say the trigger is issue-oriented and Democrats would say it is demographic in nature. At least for now, they are probably both correct, which would mean the gap will get even wider before a partisan re-alignment occurs. There are also compelling arguments that the polarization is happening at a state level, that the blue states are becoming bluer, and the red redder. There's not a simple answer here, but it is compelling data.


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