"Big Sort" blogger Bill Bishop discusses political segregation and voter clustering.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Oct. 16 2008 1:39 PM

My People, Your People

"Big Sort" blogger Bill Bishop takes questions about political segregation and voter clusters.

Slate's " Big Sort" blogger, Bill Bishop, was online on Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers about political sorting, the tendency of many Americans to live among like-minded neighbors, creating counties and states that become more consistent in their voting patterns. An unedited transcript of the chat follows.

Bill Bishop: Okay, here we go. Bill Bishop here from muggy Austin, Texas.....

Arlington, Va.: I didn't see any possible explanations for the lack of culturally creative men in your "Where Are All the Good Men" post yesterday on Slate. Why do you think there are fewer of them? Do you think contemporary society sends messages that creativity is not masculine? Finally, can you elaborate on the political implications of this gender imbalance in creativity?

Bill Bishop: This is a good question and I don't have a good answer. First, I think we need to make sure of the way we're defining "creativity." Ray and Anderson, I think, are talking about creativity in a different way from, say, Richard Florida. Richard's "creative class" are people who are literally making new stuff—music, computer programs, chips, games, literature.

Ray and Anderson are describing people who are creating new cultural forms or norms. These are people who, for example, are choosing to seek out deep relationships rather than power.

Now, why are women more prone to be "creative" in that way? I've flipped back through The Cultural Creatives and i don't see that Ray and Anderson have an answer either.....

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Slate's Fact-Checking Department in Palo Alto, Calif.: A fair number of marketers, including political marketers, clearly have taken to heart the lesson that traditional demographics don't work anymore, and they're trying out microtargeting based on things like purchasing data. (That guy who bought a Hummer and a Jet Ski probably won't vote Obama.) But it seems to me that your assessment that Obama "essentially copied the Bush approach" is dead wrong.

Obama's done Bush one better; he's mastered social network marketing, where the customer becomes the salesmen. Obama's success has hinged on the fruition of the Dean strategy—get a million $200 donations. That happened because thousands of average citizens were persuaded to become advocates. See, for instance, the experience of FiveThirtyEight.com's Sean Quinn in Toledo, Ohio.

Bill Bishop: Where Obama has directly copied Bush is in the neighbor to neighbor approach to campaigning—in making the campaign about support for a community rather than simply support for a candidate.

I think you're right, that what obama added to this is the net component, especially in fundraising. But the organizing techniques are straight from Bush.

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Cleveland: Do you find the sort to be more pronounced among Democrats than Republicans? This may sound counterintuitive, but if 30 percent of America is 85 percent Democrat and 70 percent of America is 65 percent Republican, that would lead to a roughly equal split overall. At the same time, more than half of all Democrats would come from areas where Republicans barely existed. Although more than 90 percent of Republicans would come from areas where Republicans dominate, those areas would not completely lack Democrats in the way the Democrat-dominated areas are devoid of Republicans.

Bill Bishop: What Bob found was that the sort was more pronounced among Republicans—that, for example, when people moved from a bright red county they were very likely to go to another dark red county. Those moving from dark blue counties were not as likely to move to other blue counties.

Across a range of measures, it appeared that Rs were growing more "sorted" and more partisan than Ds. Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson make that point in their book Off Center.

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Alexandria, Va.: Could the Virginia Senate race be affecting the tilt of the state in the presidential race? Mark Warner's popularity seems pretty strong, and it seems to me that Jim Gilmore is just playing to the base and turning off moderates. I wonder if Tom Davis as a candidate would have resulted in a redder tilt right now. Any thoughts?

Bill Bishop: Which way will the coattails tug in this election? I don't know. I suspect Virginia will be decided more by who's moved into the state over the last four to eight years than by who's on the ballot. Bob Cushing is running some of those numbers now. So keep tuned to Slate.

One story that has been overlooked, however, is a calculation done by the Dallas Morning News after the primary. The paper found that voters in precincts where Obama won by large margins were MORE likely to skip the rest of the ballot. In landslide Obama precincts in Texas, people were more likely to vote only on the presidential line. It's made me wonder if increased turnout for Obama will spread down ballot.

You are looking at this from another direction and it's a good question.....

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Ukiah, Calif.: Do you see this trend of sorting reversing? If so, under what set of circumstances do you think that could happen?

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