Fading color purple: America's cultural divisions getting worse, election after election

For various reasons, I didn't get to post a "think piece" this weekend. A "think piece," on this blog, is an essay linked to the news that raises or discusses an issue that I believe is directly linked to religion trends and events that are in the news.

So please consider the following short-ish piece from FiveThirtyEight a kind of holiday weekend thinker for you to scan on your smartphones while flipping burgers at your grills (or pulling pork out of smokers here in the hills of East Tennessee).

To be honest with you, there is little or no religion content in this piece -- which is precisely why it fascinated me. The double-decker headline proclaims:

Purple America Has All But Disappeared
Counties are increasingly super red or super blue, with less and less in between

Purple, of course, represents compromise between liberal blue (urban) and conservative red (Middle America and/or flyover country). The whole fascination with red counties and blue counties really began with that famous USA Today graphic following the 2000 George W. Bush vs. Al Gore race.

What does purple mean on the ground? In my experience, it means liberal social values and conservative economics (think libertarian). On the other hand, it could refer to people who are progressive on economics and conservative on moral issues (think abortion and, now, religious liberty). However, the evidence I have seen indicates that prog pro-lifers, to pick one possible label, have primarily been voting GOP at the national level, due to concerns about the U.S. Supreme Court.

Whatever it means, purple people are an endangered species. The overture in this think piece notes:

President Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was among the narrowest in history, and the country is deeply split on his job performance so far. But if you feel like you hardly know anyone who disagrees with you about Trump, you’re not alone: Chances are the election was a landslide in your backyard.
More than 61 percent of voters cast ballots in counties that gave either Clinton or Trump at least 60 percent of the major-party vote last November. That’s up from 50 percent of voters who lived in such counties in 2012 and 39 percent in 1992 -- an accelerating trend that confirms that America’s political fabric, geographically, is tearing apart.
Of the nation’s 3,113 counties (or county equivalents), just 303 were decided by single-digit margins -- less than 10 percent. In contrast, 1,096 counties fit that description in 1992, even though that election featured a wider national spread. ... During the same period, the number of extreme landslide counties — those decided by margins exceeding 50 percentage points — exploded from 93 to 1,196, or over a third of the nation’s counties.

That is simply amazing.

Now, when you look at the maps linked to this phenomenon, doesn't it appear that this divide is in large part cultural? And in the years since, oh, 1973 or thereabouts, haven't most of these debates about politics and culture often centered on Supreme Court actions linked to, well, topics that are linked to morality and religion?

That was certainly demonstrated, in stark details, in that Atlantic Monthly piece called "Blue Movie" built on poll data from the Bill Clinton era. Click here to check out some GetReligion pieces linked to that Atlantic classic. Yes, this is "pew gap" territory.

The bottom line is that this FiveThirtyEight piece just focuses on the bare facts in the political statistics. It's up to reporters to hunt for the highly relevant religion ghosts, if there are reporters out there willing to do so.

But is the fading of the purples newsworthy?

How could any sane editors say that it isn't?

The electorate’s move toward single-party geographic enclaves has been particularly pronounced at the extremes. Between 1992 and 2016, the share of voters living in extreme landslide counties quintupled from 4 percent to 21 percent. ...
(C)ommunities can change allegiances over time. But most places just aren’t budging -- in fact, they’re doubling down. In an increasing number of communities like Baldwin County, Alabama, which gave Trump 80 percent of its major-party votes, and San Mateo, California, which gave Clinton 80 percent, an entire generation of youth will grow up without much exposure to alternative political points of view. If you think our political climate is toxic now, think for a moment about how nasty politics could be 20 or 30 years from now.

Religion-beat reporters: Send this FiveThirtyEight link to your editors. There are lots and lots of stories here.

IMAGE: From research posted at Princeton.edu

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