Take a walk around your neighborhood. Chances are that if someone had a "Yes We Can" sign in their front yard in 2008, everyone on your block had a "Yes We Can" sign in their front yard. Conversely, if one of your neighbors complains to you about ObamaCare, chances are everyone else around you feels the same way.
That is because Americans aren't just dividing by region, state, and cities anymore. They are increasingly choosing to live in bright red or blue neighborhoods — and, according to Pacific Standard, they are feeling happier because of it.
"When people feel like their values match their environment, they experience greater subjective well-being and increased self-esteem," researchers from the University of Virginia wrote. "Without fear of reprisal for expressing one’s values, one may be able to more easily form strong interpersonal bonds and accumulate social capital."
The new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, broke down a huge sample size of more than one million voters who rated themselves on a liberal-to-conservative scale, gave their current zip codes, and the zip codes where they had lived for the longest period of time.
The researchers found that "partisan participants who previously lived in communities with values different from their own were more likely to migrate than those who lived in communities with values similar to their own."
People who strongly identified as liberal and conservative were more likely to move to partisan neighborhoods, as opposed to moderates, who were happier to stay put. Ultimately, those who moved felt better about themselves — but, as we saw during the government shutdown, that self-segragation has a political cost.
Congress' approval rating is currently at eight percent, its lowest level in the 39 years Gallup has been measuring it. It's easy to look at that number and cry, "Throw the bums out!" The problem is that many of those Congressmen are voting exactly the way their hyper-partisan districts want them to.
The system is working — when voters segregate themselves by ideology, they get representatives who are less willing to compromise. Not only that, but the ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans is widening.
Last year, the Pew Research Center released a study of values gaps between 1987 and 2012. Before the administrations of President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush, the gap in stated social and political values wasn't much different between a Republican and a Democrat as it was between, say, a college graduate and a non-college graduate. That is no longer the case:
(Source: Pew Research Center)
Take the environment. Twenty years ago, Republicans and Democrats both agreed that environmental protections were valuable. Today, there is a 39-point gap between the two groups, with similarly widening gaps on everything from the size of government to immigration.
Conservatives are becoming more conservative and liberals are becoming more liberal, and they are increasingly moving to places where people think like they do.
We have known that Congressional districts have been growing more partisan for years. As Nate Silver noted in The New York Times after last year's election, "the number of landslide districts — those in which the presidential vote margin deviated by at least 20 percentage points from the national result — has roughly doubled" since 1992.
But any measurement of partisanship in Congressional districts also has to take into account gerrymandering. Measuring voters' political attitudes by zip code doesn't. That is why this most recent study is so discouraging — at least to those who would like to see less gridlock in Washington.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 7 tips for keeping your man (from the 1950s)
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- 4 simple steaks you can cook in a pan
- Why does Fareed Zakaria still have a job?
- Does solar energy have a battery problem?
- Save the world... by changing how you pee
Subscribe to the Week