Cynthia M. Allen

Think Tarrant County is politically tolerant? New analysis says no

An elephant painted to resemble the Texas flag greets visitors to every GOP Convention. This one was displayed in Fort Worth, when the state Republican convention was held here.
An elephant painted to resemble the Texas flag greets visitors to every GOP Convention. This one was displayed in Fort Worth, when the state Republican convention was held here.

In the age of Trump, Americans are becoming ever more divided.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have contributed to the growing sense of discord by targeting specific ethnic or racial groups, but they probably aren’t to blame for the larger and growing partisanship based on political identity that is tearing communities apart.

In 2016, before the election of Donald Trump, the Pew Research Center found that animosity toward those in the opposing political party had reached its highest level in almost 25 years and that for the for the first time in the study’s history, the majority of both Democrats and Republicans say they view the opposing party “very unfavorably.”

Three years later, things have only gotten worse.

The question is why.

We can’t lay this all at the feet of divisive politicians.

New analysis from The Atlantic suggests we should point our fingers back at ourselves.

Working with several polling and analytics firms, The Atlantic created a ranking of U.S. counties based on partisan prejudice and found that geography (in a general sense) played some role in political animosity, specifically that political intolerance is often concentrated in urban areas.

But the most politically intolerant Americans (who tend to be urbanites) also tend to be whiter, more highly educated, older, and more partisan themselves. Higher education seems to be a key factor in partisanship, since people who attend graduate school appear to experience the least amount of political disagreement and therefore have less exposure and respect for anyone with conflicting ideas.

When it comes to minorities, The Atlantic’s investigation confirms the somewhat counter-intuitive finding of other studies — that nonwhite people tend to be more open to opposing viewpoints because they routinely encounter political disagreement and have more diverse social networks that introduce them to a variety of opinions and more importantly, help them to associate ideas they disagree with, with people they like.

Based on those broad findings, I was curious how Tarrant County ranked.

Given its racial and ethnic diversity (17 percent African American and almost 30 percent Hispanic), its mix of urbanites and rural dwellers, its education level (fewer than a third hold a bachelor’s degree or higher) and its changing political dynamic, I figured it would be a place of relative tolerance.

Turns out it’s not.

According to The Atlantic’s analysis, Tarrant County is in the 96th percentile, which means that only four out of every 100 counties are more prejudiced against political opponents. That’s bad.

The Atlantic’s heat map shows that political animosity is particularly intense among Tarrant County Democrats, who are considerably more prejudiced against Republicans than Democrats elsewhere. (Republicans in Tarrant County are rated only “somewhat” more prejudiced against Democrats.)

But members of the Tarrant GOP shouldn’t see that as a sign of virtue. None of this is worth bragging about.

Overall, Texas appears to have a mix of highly partisan and highly tolerant counties, which signals it’s politically healthier than say, Florida, which is a bastion of intolerance according to The Atlantic study. But that’s cold comfort after reading just how partisan our hometown community is perceived to be.

Partisan prejudice certainly involves more than geography and is complex, especially in an age where “identity” is increasingly important and identity politics are the weapon of choice for many.

But one prescription, as I’ve written before, may be fairly simple: Get to know your neighbors and others in your community, especially when they think differently than you.

Engage with people with whom you think you might disagree, because you probably share more common ground than you think. Don’t assume the worst about people who vote for the other party.

Partisan animosity should be something we can address— especially in a place as diverse as Tarrant County.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

Cynthia Allen joined the Star-Telegram Editorial Board in 2014 after a decade of working in government and public affairs in Washington, D.C. She is a member of the Editorial Board and writes a weekly opinion column on a wide array of topics, including politics, faith and motherhood.