If you find yourself wanting to steal that McCain-Palin or Obama-Biden sign on your neighbor's lawn, you might want to factor that feeling in when you think about where you want to retire. More and more people are. Fact is, most retirees say they would like to live in a place where they fit in with the culture, and lifestyle choices increasingly tend to vary according to political party lines.
Americans have been sorting themselves into these like-minded groups for three decades. Bill Bishop, coauthor of The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart, and Robert Cushing, a retired sociology professor, found that 48 percent of voters lived in communities where the presidential election wasn't close at all in 2004, up from 39 percent in 1992. "It's not about single-payer healthcare and Iran. It's not policy," says Bishop. "It's people who have the same kind of way of life, people who think alike."
To pick 10 great retirement spots where Republicans and Democrats would feel right at home, U.S. News tapped our list of over 2,000 Best Places to Retire and sought out places in congressional districts that leaned heavily toward one political party in the past two presidential elections. (You can use our search tool to build a list of retirement spots based on your personal preferences, including recreational and cultural activities, healthcare, region, and climate.) "For most people, politics isn't at the center of their lives," says Diana Mutz, a political science and communication professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative Versus Participatory Democracy. "If you choose a community based on the availability of certain types of schools or amenities, that's going to attract other people with similar types of viewpoints."
There's nothing quite like the warm bath of expressing your political views in public and knowing they are whole-heartedly embraced by the majority of your neighbors. "Pretty much when you meet people you can assume they are on the same political wavelength that you are," Ashleigh Evans, 69, a retired actress and regional director for Oracle Resource Services, says about San Mateo, Calif. "If a plumber comes to the house, you can pretty much assume he is a Democrat and feels the same way about most things that I do."
Evans is now the secretary and a past chair of an approximately 70-member political club called San Mateo County Democracy for America. Members meet at least once a month to increase voter registration, write letters to the editor, and send E-mails and make phone calls to potential voters. They hold occasional protests, especially against the Iraq war. But those in the political minority may find San Mateo less hospitable. "Here Republicans might keep their views to themselves because they might not feel as comfortable talking about politics," says Evans.
The situation is reversed in Republican-majority communities. "We want to make sure that our community remains Republican," says Sharon Dale, 65, a retiree who is president of the Fort Worth (Texas) Republican Women's Club, an approximately 220-member group that meets once a month to support Republican candidates for office and work on charity projects, especially for American troops. "Even people who are not involved in campaigns are still conservative and share our way of thinking," Dale says about Fort Worth. And the desire to be part of a like-minded community isn't just confined to the two major parties. Ron Paul supporters have recently begun to establisha community, Paulville, in western Texas made up exclusively of those who share Paul's libertarian views.
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.
Here are 10 great retirement spots that have skewed heavily Democratic or Republican in the past two presidential elections.