More than 15 years ago, journalist Bill Bishop made the case that Americans are physically clustering in where they live by surrounding themselves with like-minded people.
In his book “The Big Sort,” he argued that you’re almost better off moving to a city where the residents are more on your wavelength than trying to change things within your existing community.
In a past life, What the Future Editor Matt Carmichael, applied this theory to a list for Livability.com about the best places to live if you are liberal, conservative or moderate. The ranking factored in residents’ political leanings but also the goods they buy, the media they watch and even the restaurants where they dine.
But it’s not just physical clustering. Increasingly throughout the world, but acutely in America, our ideological bubbles are enabled even more in our virtual communities. Our party identity has spilled over into non-political and even non-policy spheres.
In our ongoing “Age of Uncertainty” series, we’ve seen time and time again that party identification has had an impact on our views of everything. Sure, it’s helped drive how we’ve viewed candidates and how we’ve lined up on polarized issues like healthcare and gun rights. However, it’s also shown up in our data, from listening to NPR to owning pickup trucks.
It’s almost as if Party ID—that is, whether we are red or blue—is the new American ethos. Divided, not unified.
We advise clients to study party affiliation in their market research as a shortcut to a deeper consumer understanding. In fact, we now include party affiliation in our standard banners alongside gender, age, race, income and other traditional breakouts.
We’re reaching a point where we start to wonder if it’s possible for Americans to see beyond party affiliation and its tribal cues on any topic.
The coronavirus pandemic initially struck observers as an opportunity for Americans to come together against a common, deadly enemy, much the way we have done in wartime, or after Sept. 11. And yet everything about the response, from safety measures to belief in the death rate to people dismissing the virus as a “hoax,” often splits among party lines.
Coming together will require us to break out of this long-building trend and find not just common ground, but also common facts and language to talk about issues and behaviors without triggering party heuristics.