Tuesday, June 29, 2004

David Brooks is fretting about how partisan everyone is. And he notest that people are more partisan the more education they have.
To a large degree, polarization in America is a cultural consequence of the information age. This sort of economy demands and encourages education, and an educated electorate is a polarized electorate.

In theory, of course, education is supposed to help us think independently, to weigh evidence and make up our own minds. But that's not how it works in the real world. Highly educated people may call themselves independents, but when it comes to voting they tend to pick a partisan side and stick with it. College-educated voters are more likely than high-school-educated voters to vote for candidates from the same party again and again.

That's because college-educated voters are more ideological. As the Emory political scientist Alan Abramowitz has shown, a college-educated Democrat is likely to be more liberal than a high-school-educated Democrat, and a college-educated Republican is likely to be more conservative than a high-school-educated Republican. The more you crack the books, the more likely it is you'll shoot off to the right or the left.

Once you've joined a side, the information age makes it easier for you to surround yourself with people like yourself. And if there is one thing we have learned over the past generation, it's that we are really into self-validation.

We don't only want radio programs and Web sites from members of our side — we want to live near people like ourselves. Information age workers aren't tied down to a mine, a port or a factory. They have more opportunities to shop for a place to live, and they tend to cluster in places where people share their cultural aesthetic and, as it turns out, political values. So every place becomes more like itself, and the cultural divides between places become stark. The information age was supposed to make distance dead, but because of clustering, geography becomes more important.

The political result is that Republican places become more Republican and Democratic places become more Democratic.

I guess this is a bad thing. But I don't really think it's all that true. Sure, some places are overwhelmingly one party or another, but a great many places, I would guess, have a more even split. In political terms a 60:40 split is huge. In terms of your neighbors and co-workers, it doesn't seem that big a deal to me. I bet that most people who aren't obsessive about politics, you know the 98% of the population out there, might not even know or care the ideological leanings of their friends and acquaintances. They're too busy arranging carpools to the kids' soccer game or sharing thoughts on last night's TV to discuss politics. I'm a deep political junkie, but I don't discuss politics with most of my co-workers or friends. Many don't even know of my secret life as a blogger.