THE BLOG
07/18/2016 03:33 pm ET Updated Jul 19, 2017

Republicans Own Bigger Homes and Other True Cliches

Liberals like cities. Conservatives like the country. Liberals want ethnically diverse neighborhoods. Conservatives want neighbors who share the same religious faith.

Political cliches, perhaps, but research has shown these stereotypes are grounded in truth. Studies show an America divided by not just politics, income and race, but place, too. Cleveland and Philadelphia, where Republicans and Democrats will gather this week and next to rally around their presidential candidates, are no exception.

The political battlegrounds of Ohio and Pennsylvania have an evenly divided electorate, meaning national candidates have to campaign with a fury to secure even a razor-thin lead. But that doesn't mean Republicans and Democrats in those states are throwing block parties together.

With Congress mired in partisan gridlock and the presidential campaign too close to call, Americans are squaring off, too, neighborhood by neighborhood.

The picture is clear -- we don't live together.

Blue downtowns, red suburbs:
The Republican convention is being held in downtown Cleveland, which is deeply blue with Democratic voters. Using data from Clarity Campaign Labs, a Democratic analytics firm that scores ZIP codes according to the political leanings of their electorates, it's easy to see the region getting redder with conservative voters the farther one gets from the city.

In Philadelphia, where Democrats will gather for their convention next week, the pattern is the same--a bluer downtown and redder suburbs.

Republicans own, Democrats rent: Most neighborhoods in and around Cleveland and Philadelphia have a homeownership rate above the national average of 63.5 percent, according to the Census Bureau. But the odds of owning a home in both metros break down along ideological lines.

In Cleveland's Republican-leaning ZIP codes, the rate of homeownership is an impressive 83 percent. In Democratic communities, it's only 59 percent, well below the national average.

The same holds true in greater Philadelphia, where the homeownership rate is 79.5 percent in conservative communities and less than 62 percent in liberal ones.

Big houses, little houses: Republican-leaning ZIPs in both metros also tend have more expensive houses.

Homes in Cleveland's Republican neighborhoods sold for an average $301,700. In Democratic areas, the average sale price was $228,000, Redfin data shows.

In Philly's red neighborhoods, the average home sold for nearly $197,500, Redfin data showed. Houses in blue communities went for about half that, just above $99,000.

What's going on? The housing gerrymander is a component of what the non-partisan Pew Research Center called the "ideological silos" that have sprung up in America over the past two decades.

In 2014, Pew asked people what they would look for in a community if they were planning to move. Three-quarters of conservatives wanted a neighborhood where "the houses are larger and farther apart, but schools, stores and restaurants are several miles away." Liberals in similar numbers preferred smaller living spaces within walking distance of schools and shops, Pew found.

In the same survey, most liberals -- 56 percent -- said they'd seek out racially and ethnically diverse communities. Among Republicans, a plurality -- 43 percent -- wanted neighbors with similar religious beliefs.

Age, income and race factor into housing preferences, of course, as much as they play into political leanings. Liberals are more likely than conservatives to be young, less white and lower income, for example. For those reasons and others, homeownership is concentrated among conservative-leaning Americans, according to the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

"It isn't necessarily that homeownership is directly connected to partisanship, but all the demographics around being likely Democrat -- being younger, less white, slightly lower income -- tend to correlate with slightly lower homeownership," Clarity co-owner David Radloff said.

So what? Americans have long clustered themselves by incomes, race, education either by choice or circumstance. But rising ideological uniformity is a newer phenomenon that's contributing to America's growing political polarization.

The homeownership divide is making things worse by feeding the nation's wealth gap, which increasingly is breaking down by race. Whites on average have twice the income of blacks and Hispanics but six times the wealth, according to Urban Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank. Uneven access to homeownership is one reason, and it's a contributor to voter anger and frustration.

Republicans are the biggest beneficiaries of U.S. housing policy. High rates of homeownership and bigger houses allow them to reap the biggest benefits from mortgage-interest tax deductions and government-supported home loan progams. It's surprising, then, that Republicans are leading the charge to scale back that support and do away with consumer protections established after the 2008 housing collapse.