Geographic Polarization in Historical Perspective

  • David Darmofal
  • Ryan Strickler
Part of the Spatial Demography Book Series book series (SPDE, volume 2)


This chapter provides a focused analysis of the “sorting” thesis presented by Bill Bishop in his book The Big Sort. Published in 2008, the book argues that education and economic prosperity have allowed individuals to move to communities that match their tastes and lifestyles. While not explicitly driven by desires for partisan homogeneity, the practical consequence of these trends is increasing Democratic and Republican geographic enclaves. Recent research does confirm that geographic polarization has increased in recent decades, although many scholars point to other factors besides migration as the primary cause. Neither Bishop nor this recent research, however, considers the partisan landscape prior to WWII. We take Bishop’s concept of “landslide” partisan counties and examine partisan voting patterns since 1828. We do find that the country has grown more “sorted” since 1976 (Bishop’s baseline year for analysis); we also find that education is increasingly correlated with county-level voting patterns—a key expectation of Bishop’s argument. However, we also show that the percentage of the voting public living in heavily or “landslide” partisan counties in the twenty-first century is well within a normal historical range. This context is vital to assessing the novelty of, or normative concern for, our modern political landscape.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Darmofal
    • 1
  • Ryan Strickler
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceColorado State University PuebloPuebloUSA

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