The Big Sort and community political cues in Danville

This week my Congress class is reading Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort in preparation for the convocation next Monday night where Mr. Bishop will be speaking to interested Centre students. Bishop’s main argument is that Americans have been geographically sorting themselves into like-minded communities over the past 60 years, based primarily on lifestyle preferences (rural vs. urban, educated vs. non-educated, religious vs. secular, etc.). The author also identifies all sorts of negative effects that result from this self-imposed political segregation of the American public, polarization being chief among them.

In the first chapter of the book, Bishop describes how people are able to pick up on environmental cues from the communities that they live in (or are considering living in) that give a pretty good indication of the political/lifestyle leanings of the area. Observant individuals usually don’t have a difficult time figuring out if a community is conservative or liberal, even without resorting to checking out the voter registration rolls. They then use this as a basis for choosing where they want to live.

When I first came to Danville, these were the cues I picked up on from the environment, and this is how I interpreted them, politically-speaking:

  • Lots of Baptist churches (conservative)
  • Walmart is the biggest shopping place in town (lean conservative)
  • Applebee’s is one of the most popular chain restaurants in town (lean conservative)
  • Sufficient clientage to support an urban-like coffee shop downtown (lean liberal)
  • Our first weekend in town, we took our 2-year-old to Millennium Park and there were some young adult males nearby talking about guns and the army while chewing and spitting tobacco… right next to the playground (very conservative)
  • A small liberal arts college with a cultural performance venue (liberal)
  • A new mandatory curb-side recycling program (lean liberal), but vocal howls of protest about the program in the local letters to the editor (conservative)
  • A beautiful new public library with lots of amenities and resources (lean liberal)
  • Poorly-tended sidewalks and walk-ways in the city, no public trails in the city (conservative… that is, few resources to maintain the sidewalks = low tax rates = conservative)

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