"Americans are increasingly choosing to live among like-minded neighbours. This makes the culture war more bitter and politics harder," writes The Economist
Residential segregation is not the only force Balkanising American politics, frets Mr Bishop. Multiple cable channels allow viewers to watch only news that reinforces their prejudices. The internet offers an even finer filter. Websites such as conservativedates.com or democraticsingles.net help Americans find ideologically predictable mates. And the home-schooling movement, which has grown rapidly in recent decades, shields more than 1m American children from almost any ideas their parents dislike.
Why is this voluntary segregation bad for politics? Because:
Voters in landslide districts tend to elect more extreme members of Congress. (...) America, says Mr Bishop, is splitting into "balkanised communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible." He has a point. Republicans who never meet Democrats tend to assume that Democrats believe more extreme things than they really do, and vice versa. This contributes to the nasty tone of many political campaigns. (...)
Studies suggest that when a group is ideologically homogeneous, its members tend to grow more extreme. Even clever, fair-minded people are not immune. Cass Sunstein and David Schkade, two academics, found that Republican-appointed judges vote more conservatively when sitting on a panel with other Republicans than when sitting with Democrats. Democratic judges become more liberal when on the bench with fellow Democrats.
UPDATE: Susan Jacoby, the author of "The Age of American Unreason", wrote the Op-Ed "Talking to ourselves" in the Los Angeles Times (HT: David):
Whether watching television news, consulting political blogs or (more rarely) reading books, Americans today have become a people in search of validation for opinions that they already hold. This absence of curiosity about other points of view is the essence of anti-intellectualism and represents a major departure from the nation's best cultural traditions.Whatever the party affiliations of all the above mentioned authors might be, I think their main point is bipartisan and refers to a negative national development, which cannot be blamed on just one side. It is not just the right that gets more segregated. The left does it as well.
America's domestic "culture war" is stronger than the disagreements in Europe, but Europe is usually a few years behind anyway... And the term "Balkanization" obviously comes from the old continent.