The Increasing Political Divide: Americans Seek Like-Minded Communities

by Gabriel Martinez
political polarization

As the political polarization in the United States intensifies, conservatives find solace in red states, while liberals gravitate toward blue states.

Tim Kohl, a retired Los Angeles police officer, and his wife, Jennifer, experienced a newfound sense of freedom when they moved to a suburb of Boise last year. Unlike their previous home in Los Angeles, they proudly displayed a U.S. flag and a Thin Blue Line banner symbolizing support for law enforcement. While they were initially hesitant, their neighbors’ positive reactions affirmed that they had chosen the right place.

Leah Dean, on the other hand, understands the Kohls’ concerns from a different perspective. In Texas, Dean felt uneasy about flying an abortion rights banner outside her house. However, after moving to Denver with her partner, they proudly display their LGBTQ+ pride flag alongside a banner proclaiming “Abortion access is a community responsibility.”

The United States is witnessing a rapid segregation of its citizens based on political affiliations, resulting in the greatest divide between states in modern history. With one party in control of the legislature in almost all states, and supermajorities in many, the states have veered sharply to the left or right, adopting divergent laws on pressing issues. For instance, Idaho recently enacted strict abortion restrictions, while Colorado maintains more permissive laws. Idaho also prohibits minors from accessing gender-affirming care, whereas Colorado welcomes out-of-state youth seeking such procedures.

Federalism, a key aspect of the U.S. system, allows states to chart their own paths within the bounds set by Congress and the Constitution. Justice Louis Brandeis referred to states as “laboratories of democracy.” However, some question whether this system exacerbates the division in a politically fractured nation.

Colorado and Idaho exemplify two ends of the political homogenization spectrum. These fast-growing Rocky Mountain states have experienced significant transformation due to an influx of like-minded residents. While they share similarities in terms of lifestyle and recreational opportunities, their political landscapes have diverged substantially.

Colorado, once considered a swing state, progressively shifted left as affluent and educated individuals relocated from the coasts. During the Trump era, it experienced a significant leftward swing, with Democrats holding all statewide offices and securing historic majorities in the legislature, including a supermajority in the lower house.

In contrast, Idaho, known as a conservative haven, has also undergone rapid growth while maintaining its reputation. Over the years, it has shifted further to the right, attracting individuals like the Kohls who seek refuge from blue states where they no longer feel welcome.

The growing political divide in states cannot be attributed solely to transplants. The phenomenon known as “The Big Sort” stems from various factors. Approximately 15% of the homogeneity can be attributed to people physically relocating. Other causes include political parties aligning with hot-button issues that split along demographic lines, such as gun control and abortion. Additionally, voters tend to adopt the political leanings of their neighbors.

People’s choice of location is usually driven by lifestyle preferences rather than explicit political motivations. Democrats tend to seek places with artistic culture and craft breweries, while Republicans often prioritize spacious yards. However, the intensification of polarization may be changing this dynamic. Businesses catering to conservatives fleeing blue states, like Blue Line Moving, have emerged. Similarly, LGBTQ+ families are receiving assistance from a “rainbow underground railroad” in Texas, helping them relocate to more inclusive areas.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have been a turning point, allowing a class of mobile workers to detach from their companies’ location-based constraints. These mobile workers, primarily white-collar employees and retirees, constitute the most politically engaged segments of the population.

Mike McCarter, a proponent of eastern Oregon joining Idaho, noted that people previously paid little attention to state governments. However, the pandemic highlighted the extent of state-level power, leading individuals to prioritize aligning their values with those reflected in their state’s policies.

The pandemic also prompted Aaron and Carrie Friesen to make their move to Idaho. With their marketing firm operating remotely, they seized the opportunity to relocate. While Aaron, a California native, had always planned to return to the West, California’s high cost of living and progressive politics made it less appealing. They settled in Boise, attracted by its natural beauty and Idaho’s pandemic response, which aligned with their views on mask-wearing.

The Friesens emphasize that they don’t identify as part of the more extreme right-wing faction and prefer living in the politically diverse center of Boise. However, they acknowledge that in today’s political climate, individuals often seek out communities where they feel a sense of ideological alignment.

This trend is apparent in Idaho, as revealed by a survey conducted by Boise State University. The survey indicated that the percentage of newcomers moving to the state for political reasons increased compared to long-time residents. Additionally, the share of newcomers describing themselves as “very conservative” rose.

Melissa Wintrow, a Democratic state senator who was once captivated by Idaho’s grounded and reasonable nature, is now dismayed by the state’s shift toward more extreme positions. She believes that a specific group of individuals fears the erosion of their way of life, driving the state’s growing extremism.

Conversely, Colorado may be experiencing a reverse trend. Bret Weinstein, a Denver realty firm owner, states that politics has become the primary concern for homebuyers. Political preferences are openly discussed during initial conversations, which was not the case just a few years ago. People moving to Colorado often express a desire to escape their red states, while those leaving the state express frustration at its political shift to the left. Even within Colorado, homebuyers are selecting areas based on political alignment, with some avoiding conservative regions where debates on issues like mask mandates and school curricula dominate.

Kathleen Rickerson, an HR professional who moved to Colorado, illustrates the impact of politics on migration decisions. Dissatisfied with Minnesota’s vocal anti-masking and anti-vaccine minority, she sought a change and set her sights on Colorado. Rickerson appreciates Colorado’s strong commitment to protecting abortion rights but desires further progressive action from the state.

The increasing political homogeneity in states presents challenges for both parties, making it difficult for the minority party to feel adequately represented. Although it allows the majority to exercise power at the state level, it leaves the minority feeling marginalized. This dynamic undermines the notion of a balanced system, as the majority party tends to align state policies with its constituents’ preferences.

The Kohls’ experience in California reflects their sense of disenfranchisement. They witnessed their native state deteriorate and saw little effort to address pressing issues. Frustrated with growing problems like trash accumulation and insufficient support for citizens, they decided to move to a red state. While not exclusively driven by partisan loyalty, they find greater comfort in a more conservative environment.

Similarly, Dean in Denver has encountered fellow migrants who fled red states. Political motivations have become a key factor in building social connections, as political engagement often serves as a primary avenue for meeting like-minded individuals.

As Americans seek solace and connection within communities that align with their political beliefs, the nation’s divide continues to widen. The implications of this growing polarization are reshaping state politics and testing the effectiveness of federalism as a means of preserving national unity.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about political polarization

What is causing the increasing political divide in the United States?

The increasing political divide in the United States is primarily driven by factors such as people segregating into like-minded communities, political parties polarizing on divisive issues, and individuals adopting the political leanings of their neighbors.

How are Americans seeking like-minded communities?

Americans are seeking like-minded communities by relocating to states that align with their political beliefs. Conservatives are often drawn to red states, while liberals gravitate toward blue states where they feel more comfortable expressing their values and finding a sense of community.

How does the political homogeneity of states impact politics?

The political homogeneity of states can make it harder for both parties to feel invested in the political process. It allows the majority party to advance its agenda more easily, while the minority party may feel marginalized and underrepresented. This dynamic challenges the notion of a balanced system and can contribute to further polarization.

Is the increasing political divide affecting people’s decisions to move?

Yes, the intensification of the political divide is influencing people’s decisions to move. Individuals are now considering political factors when choosing their new homes, and some are actively seeking to escape states with political ideologies they disagree with or find unwelcoming.

What role does federalism play in the political divide?

Federalism, which grants states the ability to set their own policies within the boundaries set by Congress and the Constitution, is a core aspect of the U.S. system. While it allows states to serve as “laboratories of democracy,” some question whether it exacerbates the political divide by facilitating the segregation of Americans into politically homogeneous enclaves.

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LibertyLover24 July 6, 2023 - 4:05 am

finally some good news! red states and blue states goin their own way, showin that freedom still exists in this country! time 2 find my ppl and live how i want, no more compromise!

LibertyLover24 July 6, 2023 - 5:26 pm

finally some good news! red states and blue states goin their own way, showin that freedom still exists in this country! time 2 find my ppl and live how i want, no more compromise!


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