Liberals and Conservatives Are (Geographically) Dividing

P. Valdesolo & J. Graham (Eds.) Bridging Ideological Divides: The Claremont Symposium for Applied Social Psychology. Sage Press, Forthcoming

25 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2014

See all articles by Matt Motyl

Matt Motyl

University of Illinois at Chicago; University of Illinois at Chicago

Date Written: November 11, 2014


It is well-documented that people are drawn toward similar others and that they tend to cluster with people similar to them. Most research on this subject has focused on racial homophily and racial segregation with little attention given to important identity-related concerns, to potential psychological mechanisms driving this tendency, and the potential consequences of this process that leads to the emergence of homogeneous and segregated communities. The process of Ideological Enclave Construction described in this chapter provides a theoretical framework to better understand how this process works and what the different consequences may be. Specifically, this approach proposes that people intuit a sense of belonging in different physical spaces. Absent explicit knowledge of the values held by people in different physical spaces, people may use subtle cues to determine whether they would belong there or not. Sometimes these cues may be surface-level, demographic characteristics, which provides some understanding of the emergence of racially segregated communities. Other times, these cues may be deeper-level cues that are implicitly linked with moral values, like the proportion of hybrid cars to sport-utility vehicles in a community, which provides further understanding of the emergence of ideologically segregated communities. Then, the theory of Ideological Enclave Construction proposes that people are incited to migrate when they intuit that they do not belong in their community, and when they migrate, they migrate to communities where they intuit a greater sense of belonging. This approach then proposes three categories of consequences. First, living in ideologically-fitting communities promotes individual happiness, health, and well-being. Second, living in ideologically-homogeneous enclaves promotes social capital, social integration, and within-group cooperation. Third, the ideologically-segregated enclaves give way to increasingly hostile interactions between groups living in other ideological and moral enclaves with discrepant ideological and moral values. This theoretical approach brings to life and gives broader meaning to Frazier’s claim when he argued that the "spatial pattern of the community is the basis of a moral order."

Keywords: culture wars, political psychology, ideology, social psychology, intergroup conflict, intergroup relations, cooperation, conflict, well-being, ideological enclave construction, homophily

Suggested Citation

Motyl, Matt, Liberals and Conservatives Are (Geographically) Dividing (November 11, 2014). P. Valdesolo & J. Graham (Eds.) Bridging Ideological Divides: The Claremont Symposium for Applied Social Psychology. Sage Press, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Matt Motyl (Contact Author)

University of Illinois at Chicago ( email )

1007 W. Harrison St. (m/c 285)
Psychology Department
Chicago, IL 60607
United States


University of Illinois at Chicago ( email )

1102 Behavioral Science Building (BSB)
Chicago, IL 60607-7137
United States


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