Seattlites may like to think of ourselves as tolerant, but according to a new poll, King County is one of the least tolerant counties in the United States, at least when it comes to politics.
The Atlantic teamed with polling and analytics company PredictWise this week to rank all the counties on the U.S. based on partisan prejudice, and they found that the least tolerant communities "tend to be whiter, more highly educated, older, more urban, and more partisan themselves." In other words, they look a whole lot like Seattle.
From the Atlantic:
This finding aligns in some ways with previous research by the University of Pennsylvania professor Diana Mutz, who has found that white, highly educated people are relatively isolated from political diversity. They don’t routinely talk with people who disagree with them; this isolation makes it easier for them to caricature their ideological opponents. (In fact, people who went to graduate school have the least amount of political disagreement in their lives, as Mutz describes in her book Hearing the Other Side.) By contrast, many nonwhite Americans routinely encounter political disagreement. They have more diverse social networks, politically speaking, and therefore tend to have more complicated views of the other side, whatever side that may be.
The survey, which included 2,000 adults across the U.S., asked participants a series of questions designed to suss out how they feel about people with differing politics. For instance: They found that the least politically tolerant county in the U.S. is Suffolk County, Massachusetts, which is also the home to the highly partisan city of Boston. The most tolerant counties, by contrast, are places like Randolph, Onslow, and Davidson Counties in North Carolina, which are also more politically and racially diverse. King County fell in the 98th percentile, which means that only two of every 100 counties are less politically tolerant than this one.
Perhaps the most interesting (and least surprising) finding of this survey is that places with less political diversity are also less tolerant of political difference. And this makes sense: If you don't know anyone in the opposing political party, your ideas about who members of that party are will be based less on actual human experience and more on stereotypes. The Atlantic even singled out Seattle as a place where people are "more likely to stereotype and disdain people who disagree with them politically." And this is a problem, because even if you there are plenty of reasons to assume that Republicans are hucksters and racists (just look at the White House), the lack of political diversity in any community can have serious consequences.
I covered this last year in the context of Evergreen State, an institution that has so little ideological diversity that it's nearly a political monoculture. "Studies show that racial and socioeconomic diversity in the classroom benefits everyone, and this is true of ideological diversity as well," I wrote at the time. "When institutions embrace a homogeneity of ideas, they become vulnerable to both confirmation bias and groupthink, a phenomenon in which group members embrace conformity, suppress dissenting views, and isolate themselves from outside opinions. There are plenty of examples of groupthink in human history, from the Cultural Revolution—in which mass numbers of Chinese students responded to government fear-mongering by rooting out dissenters and the bourgeois, sometimes even in their own families—to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. These are extreme incidences of groupthink, of course, but viewpoint diversity is essential for countering bad ideas—whether they come from the right or the left." This is true of colleges, and it's likely true of both political institutions and larger communities as well.
So, what's the solution? I don't think King County should necessarily start a Democratic/Republican exchange program or anything like that, but it wouldn't hurt if those of us in deep blue Seattle actually read and watched and sought out opinions that are different from our own every once in a while. Echo chambers serve no one, and while I'm not saying it's time to start watching Fox News, perhaps when we do encounter the odd conservative (say, back home during Thanksgiving), instead of blindly assuming that they are all crooks and bigots, maybe—occasionally—it would serve us to actually listen.