POLITICAL POLARIZATION


            This research investigates the geographic dimension of ideological agreement between Swiss local residential communities. Following previous research on the geographical coherence of political behavior and communities’ cohesion on popular votes, the goal it to see if such spatial patterns exist through political preferences and identify ideological groups, their geography and their dynamic.

            Using vote outcomes on all popular votes between 1981 and 2014, I make several findings that point to the spatial character of political ideologies. I show that political agreement between communities cluster in distinct geographical contexts that associate with the social, cultural, functional or morphological characteristics of Swiss localities. I also show how ideological clusters have evolved over the last thirty years. A major characteristic of this evolution is the disappearance of the so-called Röstigraben and the emergence of another type of political polarization. In the last decade, populations from cities, linguistic minorities and globalized villages have converged to form a single “ideological metropolis.” They oppose two other groups: German-speaking suburbs and remote villages. Overall, I observe an increase in intercommunal political agreement, which suggests political polarization between local communities tends to flatten overtime.

            Looking more precisely at models I produce to investigate the social and territorial characteristics that are associated with political agreement, I find strong coherence between these results and results from BEHAVIORAL URBANITY, despite the use of conceptually and formally distinct metrics. Therefore, both studies provide each other with a certain validation, while I extend observations to new types of variables in the latter. In this context, using contrast as a variable class proves a key solution to investigate contextual effects on political behavior. This highlights not only the role of societal variations in the formation of political outcomes, but also the inherent association between political processes and societal inequalities. Indeed, although I do not describe contrast variables in those terms, many of those translate a moral geography of inequalities or—to use a more fashionable term—spatial justice. This is, of course, in the context of an ethical reading of variables’ values. On this background, the analysis provides new insights on an empirical exploration of spatial justice/injustice, and the political function it describes, but also fosters.

            To complete this study, I use DYADIC AGREEMENT MODELING, which proves to be powerful method to investigate the spatial constitution of political preferences and illustrate the utility to consider aggregated data in political analysis. The possibility to compute negative values of agreement with DyAM provides a clearer view on social and territorial polarization, but also a better apprehension of the actual degree of political unity across Switzerland. The data shows that despite some fragmentation, most communities remain tied in a network that spans across linguistic regions and the urban-rural continuum. I find that the Swiss Territory provides support to political cohesion and unity through the spatial configuration of its urban network which topographically binds local communities to topologically sustained political proximities among urban cores across cultural borders. I also find complementary binding among suburban populations which remain politically close across cantons throughout their respective linguistic group. By articulating political proximities in such ways, urban and suburban communes act as ideological hubs, interfaces between their local anchorage and other communities of similar geotype.