Sunday, January 29, 2012

Are we as polarized as we've been led to believe?

Remember these powerful words from Obama back in 2004?

It turns out he was more right than many people think or want to admit.

...John Chambers of the University of Florida in Gainesville, working with Leaf Van Boven of the University of Colorado at Boulder and his student Jake Westfall, analysed results from the American National Election Studies, in which voters have been surveyed in each presidential election year.

The researchers looked at people's views on 10 divisive topics, including government provision of health insurance and spending on defence. They also looked at the same people's estimates of typical Democrats' and Republicans' views on the same issues. The actual degree of polarisation according to party affiliation was fairly modest, but people thought it was much wider – especially those who described themselves as "strong" Republicans or Democrats. These patterns have been consistent since 1970.

"Polarisation is not as great as we think it is," says Chambers. "And it hasn't changed."

We've learned over the last couple of years that our politicians are polarized and gridlocked. But that is a Republican political strategy and what this research tells us is that its NOT reflective of American voters.

So if we're not as polarized as many of us think, then we have to ask ourselves where that perception comes from and who benefits from keeping it alive.

The researchers also related people's perceptions of polarisation to whether they said they voted or got involved in political campaigns. Even after controlling for strength of party affiliation and other factors, people who perceived the US public to be more polarised were more likely to be politically active.

This suggests that close electoral races are often decided by voters who are driven by false fears about others' views – and may mean that the party which most effectively stokes these fears among its supporters is likely to carry the day.

I'd suggest that there are several groups that benefit from "false fears about others' views."

First of all, as Bill Maher pointed out so well in the video I highlighted in my last post, the GOP continues to create a false view of Obama as a dangerous socialist out to raise your taxes and take away your guns. There is nothing resembling reality in this picture they paint. But it effectively stokes the fears of their base voters.

Secondly, the MSM feeds these false fears as a way to ramp up conflict and keep people watching their shows or reading their news/opinions. In other words, it gets them eyeballs and clicks - which translates into $. The same holds true for bloggers - on both the right and left.

The end result is that we have an awful lot of people intent on convincing us that not only are we polarized, but that our opponents are our enemies. This is not only bad for Democrats, its bad for our country because it keeps us from tackling the very real issues that confront us today.

As then-Senator Barack Obama said back in 2005:

I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.


  1. Hi SP
    A study came up on TOD last night (can't find it right now) but made a powerful point that" people of low intelligence tend to be conservative and the lower the IQ the more conservative!" When connected to the school drop out rate that is frightening.

    Without education we are doomed and it is why Rick Santorium et al do not want the educational benefits to go through. Ignorance is their friend.

  2. DAMN, Smartypants. And just when my socialist, homosexual, Tri-Lateral Commision plan was being implemented by Radical Lesbian Feminazis and Colonial Raised Black Men was being implemented.

    You've set back the CAUSE by at least 20 years. And I was organizing unions in Mississippi (chicken pluckers) in 1969.


    1. DerFarm


      So sorry to burst the bubble.

      But I'm sure that when PBO makes more effective use of that ubiquitous bully pullpit we'll make up those lost 20 years in a heartbeat!


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