If we can't polka together, we can't govern together

Updated 11:58 AM ET, Thu November 21, 2019

Bill Bishop is author of "The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart." The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)Five years ago, my wife and I left our ultra-hip, ultra-Democratic Austin neighborhood filled with funky yard art and peeling "Impeach Bush" bumper stickers. We moved east to La Grange, a town of approximately 4,800 on the Texas prairie where the local DJ plays polka in the mornings (along with Tom T. Hall's not-quite-classic "Who's Gonna Feed Them Hogs"). And where Republicans are as plentiful as pearl-snap shirts.

We moved only 65 miles, but we crossed from one political reality to another. In the 2016 Presidential election, there was a 50-point difference between the place we left and the community we had moved to.
Bill Bishop
This geographic division was hardly a surprise. Before the 2004 election, statistician Robert Cushing and I had written a series of stories for the Austin newspaper showing that American voters were increasingly likely to live among their own political ilk.
But, in 2016, we saw this geographical division playing out in new ways. Americans were surrounding themselves not just by people who looked alike, but by those who lived alike, thought alike and, every four years, voted alike. Growing political divisions were, in part, the predictable consequence of how we chose to live.
So, what exactly happened? From the end of World War II to the mid-1970s, US counties generally grew more politically homogenous. In the Jimmy Carter-Gerald Ford presidential contest in 1976, for example, Austin and La Grange voted alike. And the results in Austin and La Grange were within a point of the national average.
The percentage of voters living in a place where one party or the other held an overwhelming majority in a presidential election reached a post-war low in 1976, when about 26% of those casting a ballot lived in a county where either the Democrat or the Republican won by 20 points or more.
    Then we began self-segregating. By 2004,