OPINION: How Do You Fight Prejudice? Get Outside Your Bubble (And Big Cities)

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Jennifer Tiedemann Goldwater Institute
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You might expect cities to be bastions of tolerance in America — after all, they offer greater exposure to culture, not to mention the progressive politics frequently associated with open-mindedness. But it turns out that many cities and their environs are among the most politically prejudiced places in America — and that should tell us something about how we can all work to improve how we relate to one another.

A recent article in The Atlantic explores how partisan prejudice in America breaks down geographically, and the data belie the assertion that cities are tolerant places. Among counties with a population of at least 100,000, Suffolk County, Massachusetts — home to Boston — is the most politically intolerant country in the country, according to data from polling and analytics firm PredictWise:

In this part of the country, nine out of every 10 couples appear to share the same partisan leaning, according to the voter-file data. Eight out of every 10 neighborhoods are politically homogeneous. This means that people in Boston may have fewer “cross-cutting relationships,” as researchers put it. It is a very urban county with a relatively high education level. All these things tend to correlate with partisan prejudice.

The story’s the same in other highly educated urban areas. Washington, D.C. — ground zero for much of the country’s political rancor — scores in the 98th percentile in The Atlantic’s report on partisan prejudice, meaning that only two out of every 100 counties exhibit more prejudice “against the political ‘other.’”

So basically, when you’re surrounded by people who believe the things you believe, that creates an echo chamber that’s a breeding ground for political intolerance.

That’s the bad news — is there any good news? Yes, actually. Despite the prejudices many Americans exhibit, we still do have a lot in common when it comes to our thoughts on public policy. “Eight out of 10 Americans think that political correctness is a problem; the same number say that hate speech is a concern too,” says The Atlantic. And there are pockets of bipartisanship on issues where there’s common ground. Take Right to Try: It garnered universal support in many state legislatures, because allowing terminally ill patients to access investigational treatments that could save their lives just makes sense to people, no matter their politics.

Recently, outgoing American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks delivered a similar message to a Phoenix audience. The author of the just-released book “Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt,” Brooks grew up in a politically progressive family in Seattle — perhaps a surprising start for someone who now heads a free-market public policy organization.

But Brooks said even though he differs politically from his family members, he strives to focus on their commonalities — their faith, their love for their kids. And that provides an important reminder that there’s much more to a person than their politics. Or, as The Atlantic puts it, “it’s harder to caricature someone whom you know to be a complicated person.”

Particularly for those of us living in politically homogeneous places, it’s imperative we get outside our own bubbles. In his Phoenix remarks, Brooks challenged the audience to seek out contempt “because it’s your opportunity to change your heart.”

It’s easy today to simply stick to what you know and like — to only read news sites you agree with, to only spend time with people who think like you, to only follow social media accounts that bolster your beliefs. But doing so not only creates an overly narrow worldview: It also foments a distrust, a dislike, maybe even a hatred of the other side.

Brooks advises reaching beyond your ideological group to make friends, “because you’re going to hear contempt toward your point of view.” It’s important to hear that contempt and learn how to respectfully address challenges to your beliefs. It often seems we’ve forgotten how to do that — look at the stories of speaker shout-downs on college campuses, or the pervasiveness of social media bullying.

In the places where people think alike, partisan prejudice abounds. That’s bad news for the health of our republic. There’s more common ground on the issues than there might seem — and we might realize that if we were more willing to really talk with each other. So if you’re conservative, make lunch plans with a liberal friend. If you’re liberal, have coffee with that conservative friend you haven’t seen in a while. It may be the most radical thing you can do to fight intolerance.

Jennifer Tiedemann is deputy director of communications at the nonprofit Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based nonprofit dedicated to limited government.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.