Cooper: How politics get worse

Cooper: How politics get worse

June 26th, 2019 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California pass each other while attending the 38th annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol in May.

Photo by Evan Vucci

A new survey confirms what we have long believed — that the average American is not out on the politics fringes of either major political party.

However, the More in Common project, together with global research firm YouGov, does show that Democrats and Republicans have deeply distorted understandings of each other on the day's most controversial issues.

For instance, Democrats are far less likely to support open borders, far more likely to support private ownership of firearms and far more friendly to police than Republicans believe they are. And Republicans support controlled immigration far more than Democrats believe they do, and an overwhelming majority believe racism and sexism still exist in the United States.

Sadly, the survey found that "politically disengaged" Americans (26%) are "fully three times more accurate in their estimates of political opponents" than those on the fringes of both parties (8% progressive activists and 6% devoted conservatives).

Although we have longed believed voters should be informed before they vote, the survey shows that the more news that people consume, the larger their perception gap of the other side. People who say they consume news "most of the time" are nearly three times more distorted in their perceptions than those who consume news "only now and then."

The perception gap survey diverges, though, when it comes to education. For Democrats, the perception gap about Republican views gets worse with every academic degree they earn. For Republicans, the perception gap about Democrats' views does not widen with higher levels of education.

This could account for the serious disconnect between political reality and what those in higher education believe — and teach — is political reality.

The gap is so wide that Democrats without a high school diploma are three times more accurate about what Republicans actually think than those with a postgraduate degree.

The survey suggests the gap may exist because Democrats have fewer Republican friends. Indeed, the more education Democrats have, the more likely they are to say "most of my friends" share their political beliefs. And since they have more education, the higher the perception gap they have. For Republicans, the more education they have, the less — though slightly — they are to say "almost all" of their friends hold the same political views.

The omnipresence of social media, according to the survey, has not helped keep Americans better informed, either, even if, in theory, it should present a cross-section of one's community's political views.

While only 26% of Americans say they share social media posts about politics, the survey shows those who do have a higher perception gap (29%) about the other political side than those who don't share political posts (18%).

"The political content we see on social media," the survey report says, "is therefore disproportionately from people with a more distorted understanding of the other side, further adding to the problem."

Just as with everything else in life, the more we misperceive about someone, they more we dislike them. And, as the survey points out, the larger the perception gap, the more likely we are to describe those on the other side as "hateful," "ignorant" and "bigoted."

Neither party gets a pass on such feelings, with Democrats only slightly more than Republicans describing those on the other side with hateful terms. On the positive side, Republicans perceive Democrats to be more caring than Democrats perceive Republicans to be, and Democrats perceive Republicans to be more honest and more responsible than Republicans perceive Democrats to be.

This survey, more than anything we have seen in recent years, paints a picture of how the polarization in America thrives and continues to build.

Division is good business, especially when the news can be parsed through ideological political channels and through social media. Such consumption feeds incorrect ideological misperceptions, which build hate for the person on the other side and the incessant need to come out on top, even if it means engaging in less than morally upright behavior.

Where the survey says Democrats and Republicans believe 55 percent of Americans hold extreme views, only 30 percent actually do. And since three-quarters of us believe our differences are not so great that we cannot come together, we have a lot of room for growth.

We wouldn't deign to believe being wary of what and how widely we read on politics and choosing a less ideological group of friends is going to change the world, but it could make each of us cognizant of our actions and how they might contribute to making the country less polarized. It's worth a shot.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com


Loading...