Why have American politics become so polarized? Maybe they haven’t – maybe it’s just you? New research reveals that partisans, especially those on the extremes, overestimate the amount of polarization that actually exists. The phenomenon, called polarization projection,helps us to understand how it is that people on both ends of the political spectrum mistakenly assume that there is a much wider gap between the two sides than there actually is.
Making the problem worse, people at the political extremes – those who have exaggerated views of how polarized the country is – are also the ones who are most politically active. This can end up translating extreme partisans’ mistaken views into the election of politicians who are more extreme than the people they represent, particularly in the context of intra-party primaries (Nate Silver recently documented this effect among Senate Republicans).
When the gap between the two parties appears to be enormous, compromise becomes difficult. We become less likely to see our political adversaries as having the same basic goals as us (like improving the country and the lives of its citizens) while having different opinions of how to achieve those goals. Instead, they become the enemy. And compromising with the enemy is not pragmatic, it’s disloyal.
Just ask Richard Mourdock who recently ousted six-term Republican senator Dick Lugar in the Indiana GOP primary. He told Brian Howey of the Evansville Courier and Press:
“I recognize there are times when our country is incredibly polarized in that political sense. Right now is one of those times. The leadership of the Republican Party and the leadership of the Democratic Party are not going to be able to reach compromise on big issues because they are so far apart in principle. My idea of bipartisanship going forward is to make sure that we have such a Republican majority in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate and in the White House, that if there’s going to be bipartisanship, it’s going to be Democrats coming our way, instead of them trying to pull Republicans their way.”
Dick Lugar’s biggest sin, it seems, is that he was occasionally willing to side with Obama and the Democrats. He worked with then-Senator Obama on a bill that to secure nuclear material abroad, and voted to confirm President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. As Obama himself said in a statement released after Lugar’s defeat, “While Dick and I didn’t always agree on everything, I found during my time in the Senate that he was often willing to reach across the aisle and get things done.” A willingness to compromise meant the end of Senator Lugar, or, as Tea Partiers in Indiana liked to refer to him, “Obama’s favorite Republican.” Another moderate Republican Senator, Maine’s Olympia Snowe, also decided not to seek re-election, saying that she does “not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term.”
But let’s get back to the research – what’s the evidence that suggests that it’s the extremists that overestimate the amount of political polarization? . . . [continued]
Read the entire post on Random Assignments.
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- Ideology is Back
- Ideology Shaping Situation of Vice Versa
- Motivated Skepticism
- Naive Cynicism
- The Situation of Polarization
- Biased? I know you are but what am I?
- I’m Objective, You’re Biased
- Ideology, Psychology, and Law – Introduction
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