Skip to main content

New Support for the Big Sort Hypothesis: An Assessment of Partisan Geographic Sorting in California, 1992–2010

  • Jesse Sussell (a1)

This article empirically examines the “Big Sort hypothesis”—the notion that, in recent years, liberal and conservative Americans have become increasingly spatially isolated from one another. Using block group-, tract-, and county-level party registration data and presidential election returns, I construct two formal indices of segregation for 1992–2010 in California and evaluate those indices for evidence of growth in the segregation of Californians along ideological lines. Evidence of rising geographic segregation between Democrats and Republicans for measures generated from both party registration and presidential vote data is found. This growth is statistically significant for 10 of the 12 segregation measures analyzed. In addition, many of the increases are practically significant, with estimates of growth in segregation during the observation period ranging from 2% to 23%.

Hide All
Abrams Samuel J., and Fiorina Morris P.. 2012. ““The Big Sort” That Wasn't: A Skeptical Reexamination.” PS Political Science and Politics 45 (2): 203–09.
Alba Richard D., Logan John R., and Stults Brian J.. 2000. “How Segregated Are Middle-Class African Americans?Social Problems 47 (4): 543–58.
Bishop Bill. 2009. The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. Boston: Mariner Books.
Brewer Mark D., Mariani Mack D., and Stonecash Jeffrey M.. 2002. “Northern Democrats and Party Polarization in the US House.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 27 (3): 423–44.
California Statewide Database. (accessed 5/8/2012).
Collins Chiquita A., and Williams David R.. 1999. “Segregation and Mortality: The Deadly Effects of Racism?Sociological Forum 14 (3): 495523.
Einstein Katherine. 2011. “Divided Regions: Race, Political Segregation, and the Polarization of Metropolitan America.” PhD diss, Harvard University.
Erbe Brigitte M. 1975. “Race and Socioeconomic Segregation.” American Sociological Review 40 (December): 801–12.
Gentzkow Matthew, and Shapiro Jesse M.. 2011. “Ideological Segregation Online and Offline (Online Appendix).” Quarterly Journal of Economics 126 (4): 1799–839.
Gerber Elisabeth R., and Lewis Jeffrey B.. 2004. “Beyond the Median: Voter Preferences, District Heterogeneity, and Political Representation.” Journal of Political Economy 112 (6): 1364–383.
Glaeser Edward L., and Ward Bryce A.. 2006. “Myths and Realities of American Political Geography.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 20 (2): 119–44.
Iceland John, Weinberg Daniel H., and Steinmetz Erika. 2002. Racial and Ethnic Residential Segregation in the United States 1980–2000. U.S. Census Bureau, Series CENSR-3. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office
Jackson John E., and Kingdon John W.. 1992. “Ideology, Interest Group Scores, and Legislative Votes.” American Journal of Political Science 36 (3): 805–23.
Jacobs Jerry A. 1989. “Long-Term Trends in Occupational Segregation by Sex.” American Journal of Sociology 95 (1): 160–73.
Jacobson Gary C. 2004. “Partisan and Ideological Polarization in the California Electorate.” State Politics & Policy Quarterly 4 (2): 113–39.
Johnston Ron. 2005. “Anglo-American Electoral Geography: Same Roots and Same Goals, but Different Means and Ends?The Professional Geographer 57 (4): 580–87.
Kinsella Chad J. 2011. “The Little Sort: A Spatial Analysis of Polarization and the Sorting of Politically Like-Minded People.” PhD diss, University of Cincinnati.
Lieberson Stanley, and Carter Donna K.. 1982. “Temporal Changes and Urban Differences in Residential Segregation: A Reconsideration.” American Journal of Sociology 88 (2): 296310.
Massey Douglas S., and Denton Nancy A.. 1988. “The Dimensions of Residential Segregation.” Social Forces 67 (2): 281315.
Massey Douglas S., and Hajnal Zoltan L.. 1995. “The Changing Geographic Structure of Black-White Segregation in the United States.” Social Science Quarterly 76 (3): 7490.
Massey Douglas S., Rothwell Jonathan, and Domina Thurston. 2009. “The Changing Bases of Segregation in the United States.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 626 (1): 7490.
McCue Kenneth F. 2011. “Creating California's Official Redistricting Database.”
McDonald Ian. 2011. “Migration and Sorting in the American Electorate: Evidence from the 2006 Cooperative Congressional Election Study.” American Politics Research 39 (3): 512–33.
McDonald Michael P., and Popkin Samuel L.. 2001. “The Myth of the Vanishing Voter.” American Political Science Review 95 (4): 963–74.
McGhee Eric, and Krimm Daniel. 2009. “Party Registration and the Geography of Party Polarization.” Polity 41 (3): 345–67.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

PS: Political Science & Politics
  • ISSN: 1049-0965
  • EISSN: 1537-5935
  • URL: /core/journals/ps-political-science-and-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 11
Total number of PDF views: 68 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 270 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.