Politicultural Sorting: Mapping Ideological Differences in American Leisure and Consumption

Published date01 March 2022
Date01 March 2022
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
© The Author(s) 2021
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DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211041143
In the United States, animosity among competing political
partisans is on a sharp rise. Increasingly, members of one
political party report that they do not trust members of the
other party, do not wish to live near them, would not want
their children to marry them, and even view them as a threat
to the nation’s survival (Iyengar & Westwood, 2015; Pew,
This outgroup antipathy, known as “affective polariza-
tion,” may be partly due to the fact that political partisans
have fewer and fewer benign encounters with partisans with
opposing views, because they sequester themselves away
from each other. Liberals and conservatives have been physi-
cally moving to areas where their neighbors better share their
political views (Bishop, 2008). They tend to join different
church communities (Pew, 2008) and occupy different work-
places (Verdant Labs, 2015). This process, in which people
of one political affiliation separate themselves from mem-
bers of opposing parties in physical space, is called “partisan
There is ample evidence that partisan sorting goes beyond
physical segregation, and also occurs in cultural space.
Liberals and conservatives have been found to have different
preferences in art (Dimaggio, 1996; Wilson et al., 1973).
They tend to get their news from different outlets (Iyengar &
Hahn, 2009). They have different senses of humor (Wilson,
1990; Young et al., 2019). They tend to watch different fic-
tional television shows, even when the content of the pro-
grams have no obvious ideological stance (Rogers, 2020).
They typically purchase different types of coffee, groceries,
and books (Khan et al., 2013; Mutz & Rao, 2018; Shi et al.,
2017). This phenomenon, in which one’s pattern of cultural
engagement tends to differ systematically according to one’s
political orientation, is a type of partisan sorting that herein
will be termed “politicultural.”
Little research has been done to look beyond individual
products and activities, and measure national politicultural
divisions on a broad scale. Those that have studied the sub-
ject often characterize it as a neatly bipolar phenomenon. In
his book Coming Apart, Murray (2012) tracks trends over a
50-year period and concludes that white Americans are mov-
ing away from a shared culture, and segmenting into two
1041143APRXXX10.1177/1532673X211041143American Politics ResearchRogers
1Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Nick Rogers, Department of Sociology, Stony Brook University, Social &
Behavioral Sciences Building, Stony Brook, NY 11794, USA.
Email: nicholas.rogers@stonybrook.edu
Politicultural Sorting: Mapping Ideological
Differences in American Leisure and
Nick Rogers1
The United States is in the grips of severe political polarization, which gridlocks government and strains the national social
fabric. In one major aspect of the phenomenon, American popular culture is fragmenting along ideological lines, a process
herein termed “politicultural sorting.” Previous studies have examined the politicization of individual products and activities
(e.g., fine art, television, and coffee), and theorized that culture is dividing in a neatly bipolar fashion. Using proprietary
data from the National Consumer Survey, rarely seen in academia, this study advances existing scholarship in two regards:
first, by eschewing a piecemeal approach and instead examining large clusters of popular culture relationally; and second,
by questioning the dichotomous model that has thus far conceptualized the culture divide. Employing a combination of
factor analyses and regressions, this project confirms the general concept of politicultural sorting, but finds that there are
numerous archetypes within each ideological group, rather than a single manifestation. Compared with the conservative
archetypes, liberal culture tends to be broader, more demographically diverse, edgier, and more embracing of exploratory
play. Conservative clusters are more wholesome, overtly religious, and frequently evoke a sense of rugged individualism.
social polarization, political polarization, tribalism, culture, factor analysis, leisure
2022, Vol. 50(2) 227 –241

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