The Monkey Cage: Maybe “The Big Sort” Never Happened
Many readers will remember the book The Big Sort by Bill Bishop. It argues that Americans are increasingly clustered in like-minded political communities. If one categorizes a county by how its residents voted in presidential elections, as of 2004 nearly half (48%) of Americans lived in “landslide” countries where one presidential candidate got at least 60% of the vote. In 1976, that number was 27%.
A new article (currently and graciously ungated) by political scientists Samuel Abrams and Morris Fiorina challenges this account, however. Abrams and Fiorina argue that presidential voting is not a reliable indicator of partisanship, as voting may depend on idiosyncratic features of candidates. Better, they argue, is party registration, which more reliably measures people’s underlying partisan preference (if any).
When landslide counties are identified using party registration and this same 60/40 threshold, the trend is the complete opposite of a Big Sort. The fraction living in such counties was 50% in 1976; in 2008, it was 15%. This same conclusion emerges using thresholds lower than 60/40.
Abrams and Fiorina conclude: ...
I think Bishop's thesis is right. Still, it is interesting to hear some skeptical analysis.