© 2023 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Political Polarization Grows The More We Live in Like-Minded Communities

Michael Bitzer
Michael Bitzer

A recent Charlotte Talks show discussed how polarization has increased in our politics, based on a recent Pew Research Center study of partisan animosity between voters, with one of the guests contending that Americans are ‘sorting’ themselves based on lifestyle and location, with an effect of living in ‘like-minded’ communities and voting in like-minded fashion.

As a potential result of this ‘sorting,’ more Americans see their communities reflect their same political orientation. Based on the results from over 3,000 counties across the nation in 2012, only 503 counties saw election results in a 55 to 45 percent range between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, meaning that only 16 percent of the nation’s counties could be considered ‘competitive’ in the last presidential election.

Conversely, 2,021 counties had presidential election results that were over 60 percent for one party or the other, making nearly two-thirds of all U.S. counties ‘landslides.’

In looking at how these ‘landslide’ counties voted, nearly 1,800 counties (58 percent of all U.S. counties) saw Romney’s vote over 60 percent, while 225 counties (7 percent of all U.S. counties) saw Obama’s vote over 60 percent.

While the 58 to 7 percent comparison seems stark, when you add the vote totals from these landslide counties, the Obama landslide counties had a combined 31.8 million votes cast between the two parties, while the Romney landslide counties had a combined 29.9 million votes cast.

In running the same analysis in North Carolina, over half of NC counties—52—saw their vote margins in 2012 either above 60 percent or below 40 percent for Obama. A significant plurality—41—recorded 40 percent or lower for Obama, while 11 NC counties saw Obama win with 60 percent or more. A little over a quarter—26—of the state’s counties were ‘competitive.’

Like at the national level, the vote totals in North Carolina’s landslide counties reveal a different story, but reverse of what we see nationally.

The eleven landslide Obama counties delivered 18 percent of the 4.5 million votes, while the forty-one landslide Romney counties delivered 32 percent of the state’s total votes.

But a key aspect of this division is the fact that more than 50 percent of this year’s votes in North Carolina will come from 13 counties—either urban or suburban counties.

And it’s not just the voting or political dynamics that are being impacted by “sorting”; this potential polarization based on where we live could be contributing to the divisions on such policy issues like House Bill 2, with urbanized areas supporting LGBT issues while rural areas of the state are against such initiatives.

The fact that significant numbers of voters are living in “landslide” counties seems to contribute to the notion that Americans are finding themselves in like-minded communities.

Dr. Michael Bitzer is an associate professor of politics and history at Catawba College, where he also serves as the 2011-2012 Swink Professor for Excellence in Classroom Teaching and the chair of the department of history & politics. A native South Carolinian, he holds graduate degrees in both history and political science from Clemson University and The University of Georgiaââ