Today, the Pew Research Center shared the findings of their new study on political polarization in America. Their survey of 10,000 adults confirmed that it’s not just your imagination. Polarization is getting worse.
Think about that. We’re more polarized today than we were two decades ago. When Bill Clinton was in office. When the Democrats tried to overhaul the US healthcare system and triggered one of the biggest political upheavals in our lifetime. When Republicans used their House majority to impeach a sitting US president.
Yeah. We’re more polarized than that.
For all the partisan wrangling of the 1990s, there was actually a good deal of ideological overlap between the two parties, which is another way of saying most Americans were somewhere in the middle. When I studied political science almost 20 years ago, my professor used to say the differences between the two parties were more about style than substance.
Those were the days.
Today, we’re drifting farther apart. The number of people at the far ends of the spectrum—those who are consistently (read: exclusively) conservative or liberal—has more than doubled. From 10% in 1994 to 21% today.
We don’t just dislike each other…
With increased ideological uniformity comes open hostility. The number of Democrats and Republicans who hold “very unfavorable” views of the other has skyrocketed. And it’s not just that we don’t like each other. Increasingly, we view those who disagree with us as a threat to society. More than a quarter of Democrats and over a third of Republicans see the other side in this light.
We’re hunkering down in our respective ideological silos. No longer are those with differing views just people who disagree. They’re adversaries. Enemies who must be stopped at all costs. For the good of the nation.
You see where this is going?
It’s not hard to guess how we got here. Fox News and MSNBC both launched in 1996. Increasingly, conservatives and liberals retreat to their own private echo chambers. Fewer of us have any close friendships with those who disagree with us. We don’t even want to live in the same communities as each other. Civil discourse is giving way to a new political ghetto:
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.
Polarization is an inherently dehumanizing force. It lead us to view others as obstacles and threats, not as people whose inherent dignity and worth are every bit as real as ours. And it’s not just the political landscape that’s being affected.
Tomorrow, why the time may finally have come for a four-party system…and why that might actually diminish our polarization.
Next week, polarization and the church.