I found Pew Research Center’s most recent study Political Polarization in the American Public quite fascinating. It’s a lengthy, graphic-laden piece about “How Increasing Ideological Uniformity and Partisan Antipathy Affect Politics, Compromise and Everyday Life.”
There’s much to think about regarding the findings. The overall gist is that, politically speaking, America has grown even more polarized. Not a surprise.
Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades. These trends manifest themselves in myriad ways, both in politics and in everyday life. And a new survey of 10,000 adults nationwide finds that these divisions are greatest among those who are the most engaged and active in the political process.
This group — “those who are the most engaged and active in the political process” — is most important to understand. First, because they often shape the debate and its tone. They are the most informed, politically active, partisan of any group. Secondly, however, they are also a minority, comprising only 21% total of Americans.
About one-in-five Americans (21%) are now either consistently liberal (12%) or consistently conservative (9%) in their political values, up from just one-in-ten in 2004 (11%) and 1994 (10%).
While this group of consistent ideolgues is growing, those in the Middle, in the “partisan gap,” remain the largest group in America.
To be sure, those with across-the-board liberal or conservative views remain in the minority; most Americans continue to express at least some mix of liberal and conservative attitudes.
If this is true, then why do the vocal partisans seem to dominate the news and the political process? If only one-fifth of Americans are on the polarized fringe (Left or Right), why do they seem to dominate the discussion?
Two reasons. First, those in the “ideological middle” tend to be politically apathetic and much less politically active than their fringe counterparts.
…those who express ideologically consistent views have disproportionate influence on the political process: They are more likely than those with mixed views to vote regularly and far more likely to donate to political campaigns and contact elected officials.
…many of those in the center remain on the edges of the political playing field, relatively distant and disengaged, while the most ideologically oriented and politically rancorous Americans make their voices heard through greater participation in every stage of the political process.
In other words, it’s that 21% of rabid partisans that drive most of the debate. But secondly, those on the polarized fringes are more given to propaganda and less open to compromise and opposing POV’s, making the Middle all the more anemic. Much of this is due to an echo chamber effect. Or to put it another way,
“Ideological silos” are now common on both the left and right.
The ideological silo is that community of like-minded believers that gather around partisan watering holes. Whether it’s a website, a TV network, a pundit, an online community, an organization, or a news outlet, these “silos” dispense the kindling which fuels its minority army. The ideological silo is where one can go to get mobilized for action and informed about the latest bogie man. All the while, the majority of less partisan Americans look on, disillusioned by the rhetoric dispensed on both sides.
While the Pew article suggests that the engagement of the Middle is the key to more healthy politics, I can’t help but feel that for some of us, less feeding at the trough of those “ideological silos” is a step in the right direction. Perhaps, instead of gravitating to those “news sources” and pundits who simply affirm everything you believe, and/or want to believe, entertaining an opposing view would do us all some good. Ideological silos exist to reinforce and further some status quo, or at least, to demonize its competitors. Less consumption of the product these mills are providing could go a long way to empowering the Middle, if not shrinking the fringe.