Boston, MA– Every Bostonian I've ever met has a strong opinion about something, and few are shy about telling me exactly what they think. Even with that said, reading The Atlantic's report that Boston is in the most politically intolerant county in the continental United States was a bit of a shock.
The Atlantic partnered with analytics group PredictWise to survey 2,000 people nationwide to determine their feelings about the other party. We decided to take a look at their findings and break down exactly what factors they used to determine political intolerance.
First, a couple clarifications. Not all counties were included in the survey because it disregards any county smaller than 100,000 people since they "may be hard to pin down statistically." Meaning, counties under 100,000 are deemed too small a sample size to be included in the study. This means it's entirely possible there's some 5,000-person town in the middle of nowhere that's more "politically intolerant" than us, but they aren't being considered.
Secondly, it's important to note that Suffolk County is broader than just Boston: it's a strangely-drawn county that includes East Boston, Downtown, South Boston, Dorchester, Mattapan, Back Bay, West Roxbury, and some parts of Allston/Brighton, but not places like Brookline or Newton.
Okay, with that out of the way, what exactly does "politically intolerant" mean?
The article states: "In this part of the country (Suffolk County), nine out of every 10 couples appear to share the same partisan leaning." Basically, 90% of couples in Boston are both Democrats. "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." This part is slightly harder to pin down. What it's saying is that we are very homogeneous: meaning we know lots of people who think the same way, and not enough people around us who think differently.
My first instinct is to criticize the article: "Well, maybe this is only based on which party you registered for," or "maybe it's just based on recent voting history," or "maybe they didn't survey enough people."
In The Atlantic's defense, they did get professionals to conduct the survey. PredictWise ran the data, and The Atlantic synthesized it into a story. Feel free to check out PredictWise's entire explanation here. They understand that we may feel the ranking of "most intolerant" is unfair, and they admit their polls will never be perfect: "Frustratingly, error is inherent in all models, and not knowing the true outcome (in this case political tolerance) means we can never know the true error."
Even so, maybe try to start up some political conversations in Boston this week and see what happens. Are we really so isolated from our ideological opponents? When we don't personally know someone on the other side of the aisle, it's easy to make assumptions and oversimplify the kind of person they are. Maybe, just maybe, they're on to something.