The following editorial appeared in Monday’s Washington Post:
If you’re a Republican, you might want to think twice before buying Lipton Iced Tea, and forget about Starbucks coffee. If you’re a Democrat, put down that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and throw away the cylinder of Quaker Oats in your pantry.
These are the sorts of conclusions that BuyPartisan — a new smartphone app — encourages you to make. After you scan the bar code on products with a phone camera, BuyPartisan accesses campaign finance data and offers a breakdown of the manufacturer’s political giving — examining contributions from its board of directors, its chief executive, its employees and its associated political action committees. The Quaker Oats Co., for example, scores an overall average of 78.5 percent Republican. Starbucks is 80.75 percent Democratic.
Matthew Colbert, founder of app developer Spend Consciously, told us that the idea is to “empower individuals so that they can make every day like Election Day in how they spend their money.” Because if there is something the country needs, apparently, it’s more decisions made based on blind partisan allegiance.
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We don’t discount the app’s politics-nerd appeal: Colbert suggests that bar patrons might whip out their phones to see whose beer is more Republican or more Democratic. But Americans taking this concept seriously? That prospect is terrifying, even if it wouldn’t be coming from out of nowhere.
In June, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press published a thorough study of the country’s increasing ideological sorting. “In each party, the share with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994,” the study found. “Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies ‘are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.’”
“ ‘Ideological silos’ are now common on both the left and right,” Pew’s report continued. “People with down-the-line ideological positions — especially conservatives — are more likely than others to say that most of their close friends share their political views. Liberals and conservatives disagree over where they want to live, the kind of people they want to live around and even whom they would welcome into their families.”
BuyPartisan would take the nation’s ideological sorting to a new level. It’s not just that Americans refuse to marry, socialize and live near people who disagree with their partisan affiliation. If the app succeeds, it would be a sign that Democrats and Republicans aren’t even willing to do business with one another any longer.
We can think of a few things this kind of app could usefully do, like help consumers sort out companies with sketchy records on human rights. But we hope BuyPartisan fails.