Big data comes to the service of big generalizations about American tribes, and it speaks volumes about how we divide along many fronts, not least of them political.
As University of North Carolina–based political scientists Hetherington and Weiler (co-authors: Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, 2009) write, if you’re a conservative, you’ll tend to buy an American-made truck and have a dog, whereas if you lean left, you’ll have a cat and a hybrid or foreign-made passenger vehicle. The causal relationships are a little fuzzy, but a look at the amygdala shows that conservatives tend to be more certain that danger lurks just around the corner and more attuned to survival—thus the big growling vehicle and the big growling dog. Liberals, conversely, tend to think that people are inherently good and that the world is mostly a safe place. By the authors’ account, most people are neither wholly conservative nor wholly liberal in their worldviews, though their positions tend to harden when confronted with someone who doesn’t agree with them; there are reasons for that as well, some of them related to media diet, the subject of an engaging side discussion. The resulting “politicization of everything” plays out everywhere: If you’re a lefty, you’ll head to Starbucks, if a righty, to Dunkin’ Donuts; if you’re a Hillary Clinton voter, you’ll watch tennis instead of football, if you watch sports at all. That said, there are limits: “For their part, the Redds don’t watch football with the same relish anymore. They’re sick and tired of the fact that everything is a political issue now and don’t believe the anthem, in particular, should be one.”
A fascinating way to look at the fracturing of a nation presumed to be united; it’s one that offers little hope for less polarization anytime soon.