America is More Polarized Than Ever Before, Says Study—But What Does That Actually Mean?

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Giant grain of salt time: What does it mean for people to be “polarized.” Is it really true that Democrats hate Republicans, and vice versa, more than ever before? And if that’s even true, is it because of extreme policy differences, or cultural differences that a complacent media loves to highlight and exaggerate in lieu of reporting on actual, complicated issues? It’s difficult to pinpoint the truth, or to speak in broad terms—the American people may be starkly divided on issues like guns or the deportation of illegal immigrants, but in lockstep on economic issues like free trade and bank reform.

Nevertheless, the Pew Research Center has conducted a study that purports to find the U.S. populace at its “most polarized” in 25 years. Here’s the crux of the data, per Politico:

For the first time since 1992, majorities of Democrats and Republicans have “very unfavorable” views of the opposing party. While just 37 percent of Democrats and 32 percent of Republicans had very unfavorable views of the opposing party in 2008, the animosity has grown so much that 55 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of Republicans now say they have very unfavorable views of the other party.

So, we’re hitting on the old point—they “hate” each other, but do they really understand why? And is this a superficial product of a superficial discourse openly encouraged by a superficial media?

The stats are consistent throughout—members of each party are scared of the other, and angry at the other, and think the other’s philosophy “threatens the nation.” The one really interesting stat is that while Democrats tend to identify that way because they like their party’s policies, Republicans are more reactionary—a majority say they’ve raised the GOP flag purely because they don’t like Democrats. Which, of course, jives with the fact that a very nontraditional “Republican” like Trump is raking, while the party establishment was basically obliterated. The same is true of independents—if they lean one way or another, it’s because they dislike the opposite party, not because they love the one they’re shifting toward.

So, make of it what you will—we knew the intensity of political disagreement had ratcheted up to a fever pitch, but in my opinion, we still don’t exactly what that means from an ideological standpoint. Still, the possibility of common ground on certain issues doesn’t mean that common ground will ever get recognized, and in our current paradigm, this perception of a great divide may just become the reality.

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