Sharp About Your Prayers

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The Big Sort

September 24th, 2010 · 1 Comment · Faith and the City

I have been reading a really interesting book.

It is called The Big Sort.  It is written by Bill Bishop, a journalist, with the help of Robert Cushing, a sociologist/statistician.

The basic premise of the book goes like this:  Over the last three decades, we Americans have been sorting ourselves into communities that have become increasingly homogenous.

Now, most of us don’t need sociological research to recognize what we see all around us: Americans choosing neighborhoods, news shows and places of worship that reflect their particular values.

Yet the depth of the polarization described by Bishop—this clustering of like-minded people—surprised me.

To demonstrate their point, the authors use the concept of a “landslide county.”  A “landslide county” is a county that votes for one Presidential candidate over the other(s) by more than 20 percent.  If Bergen County in northern New Jersey were to vote 62% for the Republican candidate and 38% for the Democrat, that would be an example of a “landslide county.”

In 1976, when Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were running for President, 26% of the nation’s voters lived in landslide counties.  (In The Big Sort maps included below, the counties in white are not landslide counties).

1976 Presidential Election (Landslide Counties have shading)

In the 1992 election, 37% of us lived in landslide counties.  In the 2008 contest, an election in which both candidates talked about transcending partisan politics, 48% of us voted in landslide counties.

2004 Presidential Election (Landslide Counties have shading)

In other words, as each year has gone by, more and more of us live in landslide counties.  What does this mean?

Well, according to Bill Bishop, it is but one indication (and he has many other fascinating examples based on economic figures, census data and, of course, religious surveys) of the fact that more and more Americans are geographically clustering themselves in like-minded groups.  These groups are having an increasingly difficult time tolerating diversity in their midst, and they are having trouble (a lot of trouble) understanding why adjacent neighborhoods think or act the way they do.

In other words, our clustering is tearing us apart.

I have long thought that New York City was immune to this phenomenon.  We are a delicious stew of colors, perspectives and beliefs.  Amen.  But lately, I have been wondering.  While “the melting pot” certainly describes the flow of people on our sidewalks, does it really describe our neighborhoods or our religious communities?  In some cases, absolutely.  In others, not so much.

Let me know what you think.  How have you experienced the Big Sort?

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One Comment so far ↓

  • cannatarNo Gravatar

    “While ‘the melting pot’ certainly describes the flow of people on our sidewalks, does it really describe our neighborhoods or our religious communities?”

    Here’s a map showing just how racially divided our neighborhoods are:

    Of course, one of the nice things about FAPC is that people come from a lot of different neighborhoods.

    In my limited experience, I’ve found that political views at FAPC are pretty diverse. And I think church is a good venue for encountering people with opposite political views because you have at least one thing in common and one reason not to immediately assume that the other person is evil just because they disagree with you.