The Divided States of America

Red and Blue Americans have grown so dangerously far apart, they should be considered different ethnic groups

Anti-Trump protestors and the supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump battle over an American flag after violence broke out during a free speech rally in Berkeley, United States on March 4, 2017. (Joel Angel Juarez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Anti-Trump protestors and the supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump battle over an American flag after violence broke out during a free speech rally in Berkeley, United States on March 4, 2017. (Joel Angel Juarez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The United States is no longer a melting pot; it has become a nation dominated by two very different and increasingly hostile ethnic groups. Their mutual interests are shrinking, their conflicts growing and the implications for long-term stability are dire.

The polling group FiveThirtyEight shared some important data this week. There were just 303 out of 3,113 counties where the electoral outcome between the Democrats and Republicans was within single digits. In 1992, there were three times as many. During the same time frame, the number of counties that were won by landslides increased tenfold. American voters have begun to clump together, to live in political enclaves where everyone is either a Republican or a Democrat. There are places where the next generation will grow up without being exposed to anyone who supports another political party.

The development of political ghettos is exacerbated by the growth of intellectual bubbles. People are increasingly getting their news from different sources. Up until the 1980s, most Americans relied on Walter Cronkite or the local newspaper. But with the growth of talk radio and the arrival of cable news, people began to segregate themselves. On the left, channels like CNN and MSNBC became popular. On the right, it was Fox and Rush Limbaugh.

The arrival of the internet and social media dramatically accelerated this. People began to isolate themselves into information bubbles where they only read news that reinforced their pre-existing world view. On Facebook, we have learned to mute those who criticized our party, or who rant about a policy we prefer. Our desire for looking into ideological mirrors is abetted by the algorithms that are used to populate our newsfeeds. These are increasingly adept at sending us only the information we like—in other words, whatever echoes what we already believe.

After the election, some scientists at the MIT Media lab mapped connections on Twitter and found that for the most part, Blue and Red America are utterly isolated. A data journalist on that team described the online world as “…one Balkanized by ideology and issue-interest, with little potential for information flow between the online cocoons.” Not surprisingly, the Pew Research Center has found the American public is becoming increasingly polarized along partisan lines, year after year.

Of course, this growing geographic and intellectual segregation also changes the people Americans send to Washington. The Lugar Center at George Washington University publishes a “Bipartisanship Index” that tracks the level of cooperation in the Senate. Not surprisingly, it has plummeted over recent decades and is at an all time low. This reflects other research that has shown party polarization is more severe than at any time in the last 140 years. The stark differences seen between Democratic and Republican politicians merely reflects the differences between the two different groups they represent.

These differences, between Red and Blue America, have become so deep, and so broad, they transcend party politics. Democrats and Republicans have become tribes; in fact, they are different ethnic groups. It is a mistake to think ethnicity is language or skin colour. It is defined by shared cultural and social values. And in this regard, Red and Blue America have very little in common.

In the United States, almost every aspect of life can be predicted based on who you vote for. Democrat? You are much more likely to be divorced. Republican? You are a much stronger believer in the need for a mother to stay home and raise the kids. Democrats have more sex, but Republicans are 50 per cent more likely to do it outdoors. Republicans are more religious. Democrats smoke more weed. Believe in God? Trust the police? You’re likely a Republican. Believe in gay marriage? Drive a Prius? You’re a Democrat. If you are watching SNL, you’re Blue. If it’s a home improvement show, you’re Red. Your partisan affiliation defines almost everything about you.


Not only are these two ethnic groups becoming more different, they are also growing more suspicious of each other. Another Pew poll found the majority of supporters from each party “fears” supporters from the other. Republicans see Democrats as immoral and lazy. And from the Democratic perspective, Republicans are dishonest and closed-minded.

America was once a melting-pot. It didn’t matter your language, your religion, or where you came from, once you stepped foot in the United States, you almost magically became “American”. It was a country where ethnic divides and animosities were left behind, in “the old country”. But now, after decades of increasingly isolating themselves into two partisan camps, Americans have become so polarized even their respective cultures are drifting apart. And what’s worse, these new ethnic groups see each other as hostile threats. America’s future is starting to look like Europe’s past.


The Divided States of America

  1. Slavery doomed the US from the beginning…..they never got over it

    • emelyone This is a view of a person who lives by assumptions and who will dismiss any thing else by ignoring it. Take a look at the slavery index and see where these things still occur perpetrated by the nation’s own people.
      Also look at the reality that using long ago history discussed with a biased view will never solve anything. Who do you think first took people captive to sell to the slave traders, it was the west who put a stop to it and now that is ignored and used to justify not creating a solution.

      • Baloney.

        Go back to school.

  2. There is a middle ground, and I’m standing on it. I repudiate both extremes. Hardly a majority, but I won’t quit.

    • Most if not all of my American friends agree with you, Mack in Texas. They’re still trying to find that middle ground, to connect with those holding different views. However, it’s true that those on the far left and far right may never connect.

      The issue is whether the populations of the two extremes are growing larger, and I tend to think they are, although I do hope I’m wrong.

      One contributing factor to the polarization not mentioned in the article is the impact of Citizens United and the resultant increase of corporate power in the political process, both during elections and in Washington. Just as it’s in Putin’s interest to divide and conquer, so, too, the concomitant bickering between the tribes creates a smoke screen that allows the large corporations to carry on putting profits ahead of social justice.

      Frankly, the whole US mess scares me that Canada may go down the same rat hole, something I am fighting against… and so should all Canadians. (I’ve always been the bossy type.)

      • SJ,
        In Canada, I think we’re quite a ways from where the U.S. are largely because, regardless of which party rules here, there is about the same appropriate socialistic bent. The best examples are that all parties here support universal health care and none do much tinkering with our social net. Plus we provide the same quality of public school education available to all regardless of family income. So, on the social side, the parties are not all that dissimilar on the big, important stuff-certainly not the case in the U.S. I believe the major thing that drives us somewhat apart here is a substantially different view party by party regarding fiscal management. The Liberals are heavily focused on tax and spend, while the Conservatives are focused on lower taxes and balanced budgets. This creates quite a disturbing whip saw for constituents which I believe has the danger of driving us further apart. With a steadier set of fiscal policy everyone would be better able to plan his/her future. If there was a Canadian party that drove the fiscal car between the lines rather than on alternate shoulders depending on who won the flip to drive, I’d vote for that party in a heart beat.

        • Saying that the main difference between the Conservatives and the Liberals in Canada is fiscal is just a Conservative talking point to try and garner support from Liberal supporters. The Cons have always been the racist party, before the Muslims became a target it was Quebec. Note how Harper treated First Nations – never bothered to meet with them. They pay lip service to health care and have abandoned their anti abortion stand only because they know they can’t win if the don’t. It’s not out of conviction. It’s business before the environment and the welfare of Canadians.

          In addition, it’s not true that Conservative governments are better financial managers. The Harper government for one turned a $13 billion budget surplus into a deficit within one year of gaining office in 2006 and increased the national debt by some $100 billion.

          • Wow….good one! A sane voice for a change. Well done!

          • In 1996 our per capita debt was $31,000 (in 1996 $). The highest in Canadian history. It’s unfortunate that Chretien along with every PM since Trudeau Sr. have had to carry that enormous debt. Trudeau Sr. borrowed a LOT of money at very HIGH interest rates that even today (Mar 12) Canadian’s are still paying for. Unbelievable.

            That being said, when Harper left office the Federal portion of the per capita debt was $15,000. Now if we add in my Provincial (Ontario) portion of $21,000. My combined debt is $36,000. Ouch! Numbers don’t lie.

            Everyone knows that Chretien raided some of our most precious programs (remember veterans, defense, etc) to bring down our National debt and beef up the $13 billion Still, when Trudeau Jr. took over the reigns he also inherited a surplus. A small $1.2 billion surplus, but none-the-less still a surplus.

    • Mack in Texas Don’t stop, eventually that will overcome today’s madness,

  3. This issue is mangled with the expected bias of the media to take an outlandish bias to create reader’s attention.
    The issues are clear when strictly looked at the issue,s not some bs poll that are prone to bias and somebody’s idea of accuracy..
    on the one hand there are people who do not believe in human rights and live on their own assumptions led by a president who is going around the system to force his own idea of who should have rights can not face a result other than his assumptive view, is a admitted sexual deviate and makes up his own reality.
    This results in this article making one side who find those behaviours opposite to what once was a common view.

    • Come on now. While I think Trump has some significant character flaws, his policies are generally much more sound than Obama’s were and he’s doing EXACTLY WHAT HE PROMISED to those who elected him President. Obama on the other hand went “around the system” more than any President before him and issued a record number of executive orders during his tenure.
      There have been Presidents who were far bigger sexual deviates than Trump ever dreamed of being-most notably Kennedy and Clinton!!

      • Did you ever graduate grade school?

        • Have a PhD in engineering in fact. Did you ever finally pass grade 1?

          • No you don’t….that’s obvious from what you write.

        • Emily. Can you make an attempt to attack the argument instead of the person?

          • We don’t have a discussion site here Chip Dip…..we have a bunch of Cons campaigning.

            I’m always under attack…..I return fire.

          • It seems that Em’s response was engineered. ;-)

        • I have not read any personal attack in this comment session. So you need to be called out.

          As for Cons campaigning I call BS. The LIEberals are just as complicit.

          • I’ve been here for some year newbie.Sod off.

  4. Similar but far less violent yet as the
    Middle East Sunni and Shiite killing one another. Civil War and the left will be wiped out with lighting Blitz Krieg if the moderates and right conservatives are pushed too far as it is going. Dem’s totally blocking even the initial Cabinet. Rhino Ryan barely altering health care called RhinoCare. Horrid. Pathetic arguing with the more pathetic. Love to see them all “Beamed up” like Scottie.

    • Case of 24 eh?

  5. Another dark cloud, gloom and doom America article from Gilmore. Can this guy write anything else?

    • America doesn’t have much of a future at the moment. It may never do so again.

  6. Surprise, surprise; Gilmour’s wrong again. Right off the bat. There’s only one hostile group, the left. The rest of his article (like all his articles) is him thinking he’s on the “pulse” when he’s holding a glove.
    Read his very first submission to Mclean’s regarding “his” Africa. He couldn’t be more wrong. And it bugs the hell out of me because Canadians read Mclean’s, and his articles are wrong. Africa is getting decimated by China (natural resources, endangered animals, all animals because they eat anything) It’s the most corrupt continent, unfortunately; That hasn’t changed. Chronic poverty keeps charities rich. This has nothing to do with this article I know. I post because Gilmour is seriously a reckless contributor to a magazine that people read, and then, because of him they’re misinformed.