Growing Apart? With Maps

Something that I see from time to time is the theory that Americans are, because of increasing partisan bitterness, our extraordinary mobility as opposed to peoples of other nations, and the idea that living near like-minded people makes life a little easier, increasingly segregating ourselves politically.

This theory, which popped up again in this week’s Economist (an interesting article, as it’s written from an outside–British–perspective), suggests that over the past twenty years or so we’ve moved to be near people who have similar ideals and ideological leanings to our own. Americans want to be surrounded by people, institutions and culture that we can relate to and believe in, so when we move we move to places where our world view is dominant.

At the heart of the argument is the belief that conservatives and liberals are in fundamental ways different, and incompatible, with one another.

I think this is nonsense, of course, but I have friends and family on both sides. However, the theory foes, if the only people a person talks to are other conservatives or liberals, the point of view that we’re complete aliens to one another gets reinforced. The opposite ideology becomes foreign, stereotyped, and exaggerated. And so politics gets more difficult. That’s how the theory goes, anyway.

How true is it in Connecticut? I decided to try and find out. And, being me, I figured making a map would be the best way to go about it.

The Least Scientific Map Ever

But how does one determine whether a town leans to the left or right? The only real data I have is the results of recent elections. I took a couple of things into account.

1. The 2004 presidential election: There is no better or more reliable indicator of how liberal or conservative a place is, I believe, than whether that town supported Bush or Kerry in 2004. This was, I believe, the American ideological fault at its deepest and most visible. There were almost no liberals voting for Bush, and hardly any conservatives voting for Kerry in 2004–whereas a liberal might have voted for Chris Shays or their local GOP state representative for a variety of more personal reasons. I weighted the way a town voted in 2004 heavily.

2. Congressional election of 2006: This is the best data from 2006, I believe, and it can expose shifting ideological patterns in various towns (Simsbury, for one). I weighted this more heavily than other elections, but not quite as much as the presidential election of 2004.

3. Voter registration statistics: Party identification is sometimes a useful indicator, although the predominance of independent voters in almost every town makes it less so.

4. General Assembly voting: This is less useful, although it can show the strength of parties in various areas.

I also looked at municipal elections, but did not weight them heavily. Many personal factors can influence these elections, rather than ideological ones.

The result is this map:

Political leanings, 2008

Notes on this map

It’s what you’d expect, in a lot of ways. Republicans to the west, Democrats to the center, and a big mess to the east. It tracks to a lot of our elections. Basically, darker shadings indicate stronger party or ideological preference. This is a little dicey. A Democrat in Milford isn’t the same as a Democrat in, say, West Hartford or New Haven. But in a general way, it begins to show a pattern.

There are some places where the shading may seem off, to you. The idea of Farmington and Simsbury as Democratic towns is a little unusual, but their recent voting history suggests that they may, in fact, be headed in that direction.

Stilll. It isn’t all that satisfying, is it? There were some towns that were really easy to peg. Hartford, duh. Greenwich, no problem. Some towns were a little more difficult, although clearly leaning one way or the other. Then there were towns where I had no clue. For those, I put a light color illustrating the way they seemed to lean and called it done.

I wasn’t happy. So I whipped up another map which highlighted these very light colored towns, which in my estimation may lean one way or the other, but only slightly so. These are swing towns. Depending on the situation, these “purple” towns could go either way. This map of swing towns has only three colors–for Republican/conservative, Democratic/liberal, and swing. Here it is:

Political leanings, highlighting swing towns, 2008

Notes on Swing Towns

The first thing that jumps out to me is that there are a LOT of swing towns.

The second thing that jumps out is that they are mostly clustered east of the Connecticut River. At last, this could be the answer for why the 2nd is so volatile: it’s comprised mostly of swing towns!

More conservative towns dominate in the western third of the state, while more liberal ones exist in heavy concentrations along the I-91 corridor, which runs through the Connecticut Valley. Each ideology has exclaves–the GOP has some coastal territory down near Old Saybrook and Madison, while Democrats are becoming more dominant in the upper corner of Litchfield County. But the two ideologies otherwise have, for the most part, interestingly contiguous territories. Is this the voluntary separation I referenced above?

Growing Apart? Sort of

The map suggests that we aren’t entirely segregated, especially in eastern Connecticut, but we’re not exactly integrated either. There’s lots of blue and red.

However, the map only drills down to the town level. Neighborhoods, perhaps, are more important than towns. There are parts of Enfield and Newington that are more liberal or conservative than other parts.

And another sad possibility is that when people really want to escape the predominant point of view… they may leave Connecticut entirely.

Is the map accurate at all? Hard to say for sure. People who live in these towns probably know better. Again, it’s not all that scientific! It’s just a broad sense of where things are.

I’m also pretty sure I got your town wrong somehow. Feel free to let me have it in the comments.

Conclusion and Poll

I fear that we will become so isolated from one another, and from people with different points of view, that we’ll forget that the person on the other side is human, too. I know we do this online, too, as well as in real life. One good reason to keep a place like this going–at least here we talk.

What do you think?

Think about your neighborhood. Do people there share a political preference or ideology?
Yes, I share the same ideology as most/all of the people in my neighborhood
No, I don’t share an ideology with all/most of the people in my neighborhood
Yes, I share an ideology with a majority of people in my neighborhood
No, I don’t share an ideology with a majority of people in my neighborhood
My neighborhood is pretty ideologically diverse
I live alone in the woods, with Republican squirrels
I don’t know
Free polls from


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