Jonathan Rauch, in "Bipolar Disorder" (January/February Atlantic), cites my book The Values Divide as a source for much of the commentary as to whether and how deeply we are about cultural values. I am also the unnamed source who stated that Americans live in "parallel universes."
Rauch is correct that political elites are highly polarized on the basis of cultural values. But this is so because Americans have made it so. Today lifestyle choices and values preferences directly correlate with partisanship. Married voters—especially those with children under the age of seventeen, living at home—and frequent church attendees vote Republican in large numbers. Single voters, unmarried couples, and infrequent churchgoers vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Polls taken by Zogby International consistently find that voters in these different demographic categories also make different cultural choices. For example, 43 percent of Bush supporters saw The Passion of the Christ; 65 percent of Kerry backers saw Fahrenheit 9/11. Cable television, Internet blogs, and other technologies that promote market segmentation only serve to ratify voters' instinctive predilections.
Something is amiss in American politics when exit polls showed moderates voting for John Kerry by nine points and independents by one point, and still Kerry lost. Although the polar extremes have always been with us at the elite and mass levels, the absence of a "vital center" makes today's politics different.