- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; First edition (May 11, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0547237723
- ISBN-13: 978-0547237725
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 98 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart Paperback – May 11, 2009
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"A timely, highly readable discussion of American neighborhoods and the implications of who lives in them." Library Journal
"A book posing hard questions across the political spectrum." Booklist, ALA, Boxed Review
"Bishop's argument is meticulously researchedsurveys and polls proliferateand his reach is broad." Publishers Weekly
"a gripping new book" - The Economist
"Jam-packed with fascinating data, "The Big Sort" presents a provocative portrait of the splintering of America." Boston Globe
"[a] rich and challenging book about the ways in which the citizens of this country have, in the past generation, rearranged themselves into discrete enclaves that have little to say to one another and little incentive to bother trying." The Wall Street Journal
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In 1965, we were a nation of 195,000,000 citizens, Democratics and Republicans evenly distributed across counties nationwide, of relative common mind, work, goals, politics and prosperity. By 2016 we’ve become a nation of 320,000,000, less individually prosperous, far less equally prosperous, all tightly sequestered in geographic, cultural and economic clusters. Politically polarized with a federal government frozen in perpetual stale mate.
The author cites numerous social science studies demonstrating the pernicious power of group-think and its ability to amplify ideologies, belief systems and behaviors while stoking extreme thinking. Mixed company moderates, like-minded company polarizes. And like-mindedness breeds isolationism, isolationism breeds extremist thinking. Because we’ve been sorting ourselves into like-minded clusters, we’ve lost the need for moderation, compromise and tolerance because we rarely interact with people with opposing views. Isolationism breeds extremism!
Bishop examines the culture wars of the 70s, 80s and 90s and reveals the links between generation, race, religion, tradition, abortion, birth control, guns, gays, identity rights, individualism, the environment and where you live and how you vote. He shows how GW Bush exploited this psychographic finding in his 2004 re-election campaign when his chief strategist Matt Dowd discovered there was no more “center” in the electorate. Dowd realized the middle was now just shallow water and wasting energy trying to persuade an undecided swing voter was folly, better to put all your energy into increasing turnout inside your deep base. And the partisan sentiment of the base was organically getting deeper by virtue of the Big Sort and its echo chambers. It was easier to build on an already rabid base than to convince a moderate swing voter to join your team. And it just so happens that right-leaning traditionalists were concentrating themselves inside electoral college battle ground states, making them easy to target.
Other interesting facts and observations Bishop presents include:
- Rural America defected en masse from the Democratic party in 2000
- Between Clinton ‘96 and Bush 2000, 856 counties switched from Democrat to Republican
- Republicans in 2007 were more religious than they were 20 years earlier. Democrats, less so.
- Republicans are “strict fathers” and Democrats are “nurturant parents.” (Everybody gets a trophy)
- Before the 1960s there was little difference in how Americans raised their children.
- After 2004, answers about child rearing became a better indicator of party than income
- Democrats moved to cities while Republicans moved to where there’s more grass to mow
- Reversing a trend, Democrats are now pro states-rights advocates whereas Republicans are shifting to support Federal mandates.
Other wedge issues Bishop cites behind the culture wars are school textbook censorship in the 70s and the 90s, busing in Boston in the ‘70s, prayer in schools, mainline churches preaching “social good” over “personal salvation” (saving society vs saving souls), spotted owls and old growth forests, gun control, birth control, abortion, sexual revolution, the rise of individualism and feminism.
Economic factors behind the Big Sort were globalization, technology, automation and the resulting disappearance of blue collar jobs, especially in the mid west and rural regions. This Corporate-Wall Street-Globalist grand bargain gave us cheap imported goods and low inflation (and a soaring stock market) but sacrificed jobs, livelihoods and a sense of meaning and direction for millions. (Globalization helped pull 150 million people out of poverty in China but plunged 10s of millions of the U.S. middle class into chaos and anxiety towards an uncertain future.)
Other changes Bishop notes includes the loss in faith in government and institutions beginning in the mid sixties with Vietnam and accelerating after Watergate. In 1955 80% of the population trusted government, by 1976 only 33% did. Civil rights was another seismic event, causing the Democrats to lose the south after 1964. The anti-science movement also came out of a slow burn of anti-trust in establishment and institutions, stoked by conspiracy theorists on both the right and left.
Bishop’s research also shows that higher education is another differentiator and has been a key sorting mechanism in the Big Sort. Today, the clearest indicators of Democrat vs Republican are education, age, parenting style, religion and geography (urban vs exurban - not necessarily sub-urban). The higher the education, the more progressive or liberal the voter, but not necessarily the less dogmatic.
Overall, The Big Sort is an interesting look at how certain monumental social and economic shifts have been quietly, and not so quietly, taking place in our society over the past 50 years causing ever larger chasms between the left and right. This new clustering of people, culture, economics, politics and ideas, all force-multiplied by social media and echo chambers, may help explain how this great country of ours has just elected a bellicose, ignorant, fear-mongering, Reality TV demagogue as its president - a primal scream from a fearful, displaced, white, rural middle class.
May God Save America!
Bishop calls the phenomenon of people sorting themselves the Big Sort. It has become more extreme over the last couple of decades as the process has continued. He attributes decreased tolerance toward neighbors who have different political opinions to this phenomenon. He argues that like-minded people when they get together become more extreme while groups consisting of people with different opinions tend to moderate themselves in order to get along. He discusses his move from Kentucky to Austin, Texas where he moved into a neighborhood where George W. Bush came in third in the 2000 presidential election behind both Al Gore and Ralph Nader. He describes how his neighborhood became less and less tolerant and how his one and only Republican neighbor moved out. He said that they were all worse off because of this lack of diversity.
While somewhat anecdotal, Bishop does base his book on a lot of statistics and his coauthor Robert Cushing is a statistician. Bishop uses the anecdotes very appropriately and backs them up with references to facts and to scholarly writings. The main take away from this book is how as a society in the United States we have been dividing ourselves increasingly into polarized groups that do not interact with each other.
Creativity suffers when society becomes so polarized in that while it is valued within some groups if it fits into the genre, having to fit into increasingly polarized groups increases conformism and thus hurts overall creativity. Society has become increasingly compartmentalized and people must conform in order to fit in or they will not be socially accepted. African-Americans for example who are Republican may find it hard to be accepted within their community among African-Americans while also having a hard time to gain acceptance among Republicans.