By: Natalie Sherman
“We are sorting ourselves into bubbles,” Mo Elleithee said. He went on to elaborate that like-minded people will find each other. Whether that be on the basis of race, sexuality, class, etc., we seek out those who are like us. I thought, “Is it really that simple?” But, my mom is the same age as the other moms in our neighborhood, and all the moms in my neighborhood went to college, and make roughly the same income to live in roughly the same size homes, and vote the same way and… I realized why our neighborhood seemed to mesh so well. But this isn’t a new idea, nor was it the original idea of Mo Elleithee. The Big Sort was written in 2014 by Bill Bishop. Elleithee expanded on points explored by Bishop to say that the ways in which we have sorted ourselves can predict how we will vote. In 2016, the number one predictor of how people voted was geography: rural versus urban living. If political strategists can understand this “sort,” it can save valuable time and resources, since campaigns already know where to find their target audience. We put ourselves perfectly into bubbles, and it has drastically altered our politics.
“Political identity coincides with other parts of identity,” said David Corn. Although Corn never did address “the sort” in the direct manner of Elleithee, it is not an entirely different concept. Corn means that our political identity can be presumed based on other parts of our identity. This would also include race, sexuality, class, etc. These cultural factors have historically been used to predict how a person will vote with increasing accuracy.
An article run in The Economist speculates as to the reasoning for this sort, an explanation that points to groupthink. Many jobs are mobile or can be done anywhere in the country, so preferring to live with like-minded neighbors can slowly build up over time until the segregation is obvious. This segregation does not come from blatantly looking for neighborhoods where people look just like you and choosing to move there. But rather, living in areas with your preference of grocery store, or your denomination of religious facility can inadvertently cause you to live near those who have similar tastes as you. This encourages similar establishments to open in the area and increases the polarization.
While it may sound fun to live in a neighborhood full of people just like you, the lack of diversity can lead to ignorance or close-mindedness, or simply a lack of knowledge of diversity. This can cause views to become extreme when there is never a contrasting viewpoint. When we sort ourselves, we create our own echo chambers. We hear our own opinions or ideas repeated back to us over and over, so when an opposing one is given, it seems absurd or unreasonable. Likewise, it leads to the miseducation of political parties. A Republican may have more extreme ideas of what Democrats believe and vice versa. It causes unnecessary divisiveness caused by a pure lack of communication, information, and education. If a Republican only ever hears what a Democrat believes from fellow Republicans (and vice versa), this hearsay leads to misdirection. In the past, it was more likely that the two people from different parties might engage in friendly civilized discussion and find commonalities.
But what implications can this hold for politics? When we sort ourselves into political ideologies, extremism can deter any middle or moderate opinions or candidates. As this sort continues, this polarization could lead to an even more divisive election season for 2020 and more election seasons to come. But more politically speaking, this could potentially have implications for gerrymandering. As sorting continues, counties’ typical voting patterns could change. In particular, swing districts could solidify into one party or the other and make election predictions clearer and campaigns easier.
The prospect of a sort can seem implausible or silly. But look around your hometown – is everybody really that different? Is there a reason neighborhoods bond so easily, and your mom made friends with other moms, and you became friends with their kids. We are sorting ourselves, and in the midst of it, we are losing our compassion and understanding. Diversity is valuable, and the declining presence of diverse viewpoints could have detrimental implications for the world of politics.