Do You Think You Live in a Political Bubble?

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

America is increasingly politically polarized. How politically diverse do you think your neighborhood is? Do you think your neighbors are mostly Democrats or Republicans? Do you think you live in a partisan bubble?

In “Do You Live in a Political Bubble?,” Gus Wezerek, Ryan D. Enos and Jacob Brown designed an interactive tool to help you find out. Enter your address to see the political party of the thousand voters closest to you and see if the data matches your answers above.

In the Opinion essay that follows, the authors look at how we ended up with such a segregated political landscape and what we can do about it:

More than half of Republicans believe that last year’s election was stolen from Donald Trump. Rather than reject claims of election fraud, Republican lawmakers have used the premise that the election was stolen to justify restrictions on voting.

Mr. Trump most likely deserves much of the blame for the widespread belief among Republicans that the election was illegitimate. But there’s another reason so many Republicans might not believe that Joe Biden won: They don’t live near people who voted for him.

Surveys have shown that Americans’ animosity toward the opposing political party is higher than it has been in decades. At the same time, we’ve found that geographic political segregation has increased over the past 10 years. Could the two trends be connected?

“It’s a lot easier to demonize people on the other end of the political spectrum if you don’t personally know many of them,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “That’s not a healthy situation for the country.”

The essay continues:

In many places, political segregation overlaps with racial segregation. People of color, who tend to identify as Democrats, live in densely populated urban communities. Republicans, who are mostly white, are spread out across exurbs and rural areas.

Our data reveals the racial and political segregation that exists even within cities. In Mobile, Ala., for example, Black Democrats live along the water, while white Republicans are bunched up farther inland. This division has existed for more than a century, in part because of the government’s racist housing policies.

In 1937, the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation made a map of Mobile for the real estate industry to use when assessing an area’s risk level. Across the board, Mobile’s Black neighborhoods were shaded in red and rated as “hazardous,” making it more difficult for residents to get loans or build enough wealth through homeownership to move elsewhere.

Today, redlining lives on under the guise of single-family zoning laws. By banning multifamily housing units, many communities have essentially locked out people of color who have less wealth and can’t afford single-family homes’ higher down payments.

But even if racial segregation disappeared overnight, there’s evidence to suggest that people would still be sorted into red or blue communities.

The authors explore some possible remedies:

But for a more durable solution, President Biden should dismantle zoning laws that have kept Democrats and Republicans apart in the first place.

Middle-income Democrats who can’t afford a single-family home should still be able to raise their children in a duplex with a front yard. And young, lower-income Republicans shouldn’t be priced out of the cultural amenities that city life provides.

By making it easier for Democrats and Republicans to live side by side, President Biden might also restore some of our trust in one another. Our democracy only stands to benefit.

Students, read the entire essay, then tell us:

  • Do you live in a political bubble? Were you surprised by the results of the interactive map? In what ways did it confirm or contradict your perception of the political diversity of your community?

  • Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation says, “It’s a lot easier to demonize people on the other end of the political spectrum if you don’t personally know many of them.” How concerned should we be about the growing political bubbles Americans live in? Which of the maps depicting our segregated political landscape do you find most interesting, thought-provoking or worrisome?

  • How important is diversity of thought, information and perspectives to you? Do you like to surround yourself with like-minded people? Or do you make an effort to seek out people with different experiences, viewpoints and opinions? Do you have any friends with differing political views from your own? Do you enjoy having your beliefs challenged? Or would you rather have them confirmed and validated?

  • The writers ask: “This year’s violence at the Capitol is a frightening harbinger of the future of American democracy if our political parties grow more estranged. Is it too late to pop our political bubbles?” How would you answer their query? Do you think it’s too late to bridge the political divide? Or do you think we can still find ways to get out of partisan bubbles and to have civil conversations?

  • What do you think of the remedies to our political isolation offered in the essay, like reforming discriminatory zoning policies? What other solutions do you think might get us out of our bubbles and build greater trust, open dialogue and understanding?

  • What is your big takeaway from the article? Do we all need to pop our bubbles? Do you? What’s one thing you might do now to bring greater intellectual and political diversity to your life?

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