It doesn't hurt when a retirement haven combines small-town charms with proximity to a world-class city. Democratic Maplewood, N.J., offers quaint neighborhoods, a walkable downtown, and nearby hiking in the 2,047-acre South Mountain Reservation, but it's just 20 miles from New York City. Retirees in the Republican stronghold of Hoover, Ala., can enjoy nine golf courses, the 250-acre Moss Rock Preserve, stimulating the economy at the more than 200 stores at the massive Riverchase Galleria shopping center, and a senior center that serves lunch daily to those over 60 for a suggested donation of $1. And Hoover is within 10 miles of Birmingham.
Anyone who's ever been the only Democrat or Republican in the room can probably recall the icy social isolation of peers who just don't understand your cherished and cultivated values. "People test the waters and find out who they have politically agreeable and disagreeable views with, and, if they are disagreeable, they avoid conversations with those people," says Mutz. Or you can fill the ideological space between you with small talk. "If you do find yourself in a divided community, you talk about your grandkids and investments," says Morris Fiorina, a Stanford University political science professor and author of Culture War: The Myth of a Polarized America. Fiorina says most Americans are moderate and don't have extreme liberal or conservative views.
Many retirees say they are able to find common ground with friends and neighbors in both parties. Big cities, like heavily Democratic Chicago and majority Republican Cincinnati, are sure to offer enough entertainment, culture, recreation, and education opportunities to allow any retiree with a taste for city life to find a niche. Smaller college towns like strongly Republican Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Democratic stronghold Dearborn, Mich., both offer major museums and ample opportunities for outdoor activities."If the people are nice, it doesn't matter whether they are Democrats or Republicans or uncommitted voters, but if they want to vote Democratic, I appreciate that," says Sophie Bock, 83, a retired bookkeeper and president of the Democratic club at her gated retirement community in Pembroke Pines, Fla., a town located in one of the hotly contested counties during the fateful Bush versus Gore attempted recount.
Frank Guliuzza, 51, a professor of political science and philosophy at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, and the adviser to the college Republican student group, cultivates friendships in both parties. "I think the student body on the university campus is probably more conservative than you would find at a lot of communities, but I am in a university community where I would guess that, by far, the majority of people are Democrats," he says. Perhaps the three downhill ski areas, extensive trail system, minor league baseball team, and historic business district with mountain views offer enough distraction from party differences. Guliuzza is planning to stay in Ogden when he retires.
Of course, if you'd like to whittle away your retirement engaged in heated debate, you just might want to try retiring in the opposite party's haven. Just throw up an Obama sign in red country or vice versa and let the arguments begin. "There is a tiny portion of the population that likes a good fight, but for most people it's uncomfortable," cautions Mutz. Just don't say we didn't warn you.