Thursday, April 08, 2004

Wet pavements cause rain

The original article requires registration, so I am forced to pour scorn on this silly Slate article about county level segregation by political affiliation without actually looking carefully at the source. Oh well.

The article argues that 1) although racial self-segregation is declining, geographic segregation by major-party affiliation at the county level has increased dramatically over the past 25 years and 2) Americans live in a golden age of party loyalty, which stands at levels "unsurpassed over any comparable time span since the turn of the last century" which is bad because 3) within the universe of people who vote in presidential elections, nearly half are likely to be smug in our political views, while nearly one-third are likely to feel absolutely certain that the winds of history are at our back, rendering them utterly boorish. Why oh why can't we just put our partisan bickering behind us and live in integrated neighbourhoods!?

The author seems to assume that greater partisan ideology is making people move to neighbourhoods where people support their views. But there are other reasons that seems more likely given the fact that over 50% of the population is apathetic and (perhaps sagely) doesn't bother to vote at all.

One obvious one is gerrymandering -- it isn't people moving to homogeneous districts, it's districts moving to homogeneous voters. I have no idea whether there is more or less gerrymandering today than in the past, but if that ticked up over the time period under question, it could explain all this difference.

Another obvious explanation is that voting disposition is tied to some third factor, such as education, wealth, or industry. Since prices vary by geography, education is tied to wealth, and industries tend to cluster, any of these could explain homogeneous districts without invoking the "greater intolerance" angle the writer is angling for.

Without looking at the original source, I have no idea if these were considered, but the piece as it stands makes as much sense as arguing that wet pavements are a major cause of rain. Oh yeah -- one more thing -- utter boorishness has been a long-standing part of human nature and will continue to be so no matter where people live or who they live next to.

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