Americans need to get out more. We're not only divided into different political parties, polls show; we are becoming different Americas.
That's good for vigorous arguments, but it works against our ability to reach much agreement.
For example, a large survey conducted by the Pew Research Center has found Republicans and Democrats to be more ideologically divided than at any point in the last two decades. Partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive, too.
The divisions are greatest, the survey of 10,013 adults nationwide found, among those who are the most engaged and active in the political process.
The number of people with consistently liberal or consistently conservative views on policy has increased, the poll found. Democrats tend to be more deeply liberal and Republicans more deeply conservative, with a lot less overlap than we saw even in Washington's polarized 1990s.
And confirming what many of us have noticed, the study found partisan patterns in housing preferences. Seventy-seven percent of "consistently liberal" adults preferred the "walkability" of dense neighborhoods and compact homes, while 75 percent of "consistently conservative" adults wanted more land and suburban McMansions.
Pew didn't offer explanations for the increasing polarization, but I offer my own:
Homophily. That's a term that sociologists coined in the 1950s for what most of us know as, "Birds of a feather flock together." The term describes our human attraction to others who are enough like us to confirm rather than test our core beliefs and prejudices. The concept is enjoying a comeback as a way to explain the electorate's apparent re-sorting of itself into self-focused tribes.
Computer-age redistricting. Remapping used to be a rare art practiced by each party's skilled Michelangelos. Now anybody with the right computer software can carve out districts that separate, say, the Fox News from MSNBC viewers. (See next item.)
Tribal media. That's what I call the fragmentation of media in the age of cable TV news, AM talk radio, social networks and targeted marketing. Endangered is the refreshing and often enlightening serendipity of running into unexpected ideas, people or experiences that one might encounter while browsing through a newspaper or bookstore. Instead, it's easier to slip into an information silo of news and views that reinforces what we already believe, correctly or not.
The political-media industry complex. Since the 1950s, political consultancy has grown. Today's revolving door for politicians into media stardom and back illustrates how politics has become like sports, a congenial branch of the entertainment industry. Just as fans go all in for their teams, a new political culture encourages unblinking devotion to one's political team -- without any notion of compromise.
The decline of party "machines." Party bosses traditionally brought order, discipline and deal-making to their partisan teams. But do-it-yourself media and the end of such favor banks as earmarks in Congress have liberated maverick House candidates to appeal to ever-narrower interests.
Are we all doomed? Parties have to decide how they can reach across tribal lines in this new information-age landscape. Republican leaders are now debating how to reach out to minorities and women to win national elections. Democrats have to do the same to reach working-class white males and others in their post-Obama future.
Ultimately, though, our political future is up to the voters. The digital age empowers all of us. But with great power comes great responsibility, especially to ourselves to learn more about the world outside of our information bubbles.
Clarence Page is a syndicated columnist.