Homophily

No, not actually another post on homosexuality (though, gay marriage appears to be a much less potent issue for conservatives this election year).  Rather, there was a very interesting Washington Post article yesterday on homophily:

Sociologists call this phenomenon homophily, a somewhat grand word to
describe the idea that birds of a feather flock together. Thinkers from
Plato and Aristotle onward have observed that people seem to be drawn
to others like themselves.

Perhaps not surprisingly, homophily has a number of political implications:

In fact, research by sociologist David Knoke at the University of
Minnesota shows that if you know whether a person's friends are
Republicans, Democrats or independents, you can predict with near
certainty that person's political views.

Homophily may help
explain some of the bitter partisanship of our times — when your
friends are drawn exclusively from one half of the electorate, it is
not surprising that you will find the views of the other half
inexplicable.

It also explains why you will typically have a liberal university faculty.  Like-minded people come from similar backgrounds are drawn together.  Here's a nice example from the article:

Take, for example, two mothers who become friends after meeting at a
day-care center. Beliefs, especially about politics, may never be part
of their explicit conversation. But the day-care center exerts a very
powerful role in selecting people with similar demographic backgrounds
and shared experiences. The mothers are likely to be about the same
age, to face common child-rearing challenges and to have similar views
on how to balance parenting and work. The fact that they are at this
day-care center means they can afford it, which suggests they are in
roughly the same socioeconomic class.

“It is not quite the case that I meet you and say, 'Oh my goodness, you also believe in the elimination of Roe v. Wade
,' ” said Small. “Two years later, these guys are friends, but it is
not because we believe the same things, but our experience and our
demographics put us together in the first place.”

Just yesterday a colleague asked me if I wanted her already-read issues of Atlantic Monthly (a great magazine, by the way).  After telling her that I already subscribe, I noticed that she received a similar response from a number of additional colleagues.  How many other workplaces will you find the majority of persons are subscribers to the Atlantic?  Not many, I suspect. 

And today, there was this somewhat amusing article in the New York Times (“Cheney feels the love…”) about how for a small set of (possibly insane?) Americans, Dick Cheney remains a political rock star

?It?s just such a big thrill to see and hear this man,? says Marvin Smith, a farmer and former teacher.

Mr. Smith says most people he knows feel the same way, ?except for a few of those peacemakers.?

And this is for a man with only 20% approval.  Clearly, homophily is powerful stuff. 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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