One of the interesting and worrying trends in the USA at the moment is its political polarisation. This is of course not unique to that country, but there is some evidence that the political divide is becoming increasingly reflected in an economic and geographic one. That is, people are becoming less likely to be living lives comparable to their political opponents and they are less likely to be living in, around or even near their political opponents.
According to CNBC, new data analysis from the Brookings Institution shows that not only are Democrats and Republicans becoming ideologically further apart but their economic fortunes and physical locations are diverging as well. Looking at the shifts in Congress since 2008, and drawing on the Census and elections data, Brookings notes that blue districts are more concentrated geographically than before. In 2008 39 per cent of the US total land area was represented by members of the House democratic majority, today that figure has shrunk to just 20 per cent. Democrats lost less densely-population rural districts and gained densely populated urban and suburban areas.
It is in the economic area that the divergence can really be seen. Since 2008, the median income of blue districts has climbed to $61,000 while the median incomes of Republican districts is only $53,000. This is the reverse of 2008 when Republican districts were more wealthy than Democratic ones. Since 2008 the average GDP for Democratic districts has grown 50 per cent more than Republican ones, while the output per worker has also increased more in blue areas than in red ones. The share of professional and digital services jobs in Democratic districts is more than double that in Republican ones and there are more college degree-holders in blue areas. However, the majority of work in basic manufacturing, agriculture and mining is located in red areas.
Demographically there has been divergence as well. Red areas are slightly older than their blue counterparts. In Republican districts 16.6 per cent of the population is 65 or older compared with 14.7 per cent in Democratic districts. Roughly half of residents in Democratic districts are non-white, this is a 10 per cent jump from 2008. About one quarter of the population of Republican districts are non-white. Similarly, blue areas are far more likely to be home to immigrants than red ones. The foreign-born population in Republican districts fell from 10.5 per cent in 2008 to 8.1 per cent in 2018. Over the same period the immigrant population of Democratic districts has increased from 15.4 to 20.1 per cent.
According to the scholars from Brookings responsible for this research note this geographic, economic and demographic reshuffling has meant that:
“The two parties talk almost entirely past each other on the most important economic and social issues, like innovation, immigration and education, because they represent starkly separate and diverging worlds … Not only do the two parties adhere to starkly different views, but they inhabit increasingly different economies and environments.”
Partly this divide is due to the parties talking to different sets of voters, but I wonder how many people are moving to be in areas run by the party that they support? After all, isn’t that one of the benefits of the federal system with so much power at the state level: that they will become laboratories with different policies that will attract different people based upon their tax, social, economic and other policies? (Recognising of course that this Brookings analysis was done at the congressional district level.) Either way, as Republican and Democratic districts keep diverging, how much “coming together” can the country really expect after each election? What would someone in deep blue New York have in common with someone from deep red Idaho? Their lives would be completely different, their neighbours would be very different, their concerns and economic prospects would be different. In short, how could they not view each other as incomprehensible? And how much can the Republic take of this divergence and survive as we know it?
Marcus Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog on population issues.
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