Our Opinion: Poor case for 'county's 'partisan prejudice'

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The politically deep blue state of Massachusetts may pride itself on its tolerance, but it's flattering itself. That includes the Berkshires. Such is the conclusion reached by the Atlantic, which worked with PredictWise, a polling and analytic firm, to rank every county in the nation based on "partisan prejudice."

"Democrats in Berkshire County, Ma. appear considerably more prejudiced against Republicans than Democrats elsewhere," declares a pop-up when a reader clicks upon the Berkshires on an interactive map linked with the story on the magazine's website.

But don't gloat just yet, Republicans.

"Republicans in Berkshire Ma. appear considerably more prejudiced against Democrats than Republicans elsewhere," declared the Atlantic when a reader clicks on the Berkshires on a different interactive map. Berkshire County is not alone in its partisan misery as the same declaration comes up, for both Democrats and Republicans, when every Massachusetts county from Berkshire to Suffolk (Boston) is clicked upon. A plague on both houses, then.

How was the intolerance of the Berkshires and Massachusetts exposed? The Atlantic explains that PredictWise partnered with Pollfish on a nationwide poll of 2,000 adults to capture Americans' feelings about members of the opposite political party. Based on the survey results, demographic characteristics such as age, race and education were used to create a "contemporary partisan prejudice" profile that was then projected onto the broader U.S. population. Voter records based on registration and turnout from past elections were added to the mix to create a ranking of partisan prejudice in about 3,000 counties.

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"Partisan prejudice" is a harsh phrase, as is "politically intolerant," another phrase that pops up frequently in the Atlantic piece. They are also strikingly subjective conclusions to reach from the objective polling data and voting records the analysis was based upon.

The one-sentence analysis of Berkshire County and its fellow prejudiced Massachusetts counties doesn't account for a twice-elected Republican governor in a state where Republicans are few and far between. Here in the Berkshires, none of the five Democratic state legislators re-elected last November had an opponent. Can voters be faulted for voting Democratic when there was no Republican opposition? And does the simple act of voting for one party or another constitute prejudice against members of that political party? It is more likely nothing more than a positive opinion of that candidate and his or her views on the issues of the day. There is certainly plenty of political intolerance out there in this bitterly divided nation, but it is reflected most dramatically on Facebook or other social media venues that poison the political discourse.

"In general," said the Atlantic, "Republicans seem to dislike Democrats more than Democrats dislike Republicans, PredictWise found. We don't know why this is, but this is not the only study to have detected an imbalance." We could venture a guess as to why this is: the presence of a Republican president who is brutally critical of Democrats by word and tweet on a regular basis. There is no comparable national figure in the Democratic Party eviscerating Republicans in similar fashion. It should not surprise anyone that Republicans taking their lead from the head of the party would come to share his intense dislike of Democrats.

The Atlantic rightly observes that partisan prejudice is bunched with other prejudices, "all wrapped up into one tangled mess." Prejudices based on race or religion impact political prejudices — for example, the prejudiced views that African-Americans are always Democrats and church-goers are always Republicans. These prejudices create stereotypes that once set in concrete create the divide in Washington D.C. that prevents the kind of cooperation needed to address the nation's many serious problems.

But while the Atlantic and its research colleagues successfully assess the general status of a divided America their county by county analysis is too simplistic and too far a stretch to make from their available data. There certainly are the politically prejudiced among us, but in fairness that should not be said of Massachusetts in general or the Berkshires in particular.


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