Many Americans are actually centrists—in theory, anyway
America is polarized, but not as much as you might think.
- A new study finds that Americans aren't as politically polarized as you might think.
- Respondents generally agreed on the issues of climate change, free speech, and the value of international agreements.
- The study also found that majorities want a smaller government that provides more services.
If you haven't been living under a rock for the last few years, you might notice that the United States seems politically polarized lately. There is widespread disagreement about major issues, some rather nasty rhetoric going around, and some debate over the nature of reality.
While this seems pretty definitive, political scientist William A. Galston argues that these differences are not quite as vast as they seem and that the American center is much, much larger than people are giving it credit for.
The findings of the study suggest that the American center is more extensive than most people would expect, with 43% of survey respondents placing themselves there when asked to put themselves on a left-right spectrum. Amongst those who identify as independents, a full 60% of them opted for the centrist label.
On the other hand, 65% of Republicans identified themselves as being on the right, with only 27% of them claiming to be in the center. Among Democrats, 42% of respondents claimed to be on the left. Another 42% of Democrats identified as centrists. The study suggests that the elected members of the two major parties are more polarized than the people they represent.
The study also shows that there is broad agreement on several issues, with respondents agreeing on the need to fight climate change, work with other countries to reduce nuclear stockpiles, and on the value of the freedom of speech.
How does this explain what we see in the election so far?
The finding that "42% of Democrats identify with the left, and the same share with the center" does explain the current standings of the Democratic candidates reasonably well. A look at the most recent polls shows that there has not yet been a break for any one candidate and that voters are still spread over several choices with a diverse range of opinions.
If one treats Warren and Sanders as being the candidates of the left-wing of the party and takes Biden and Buttigieg to be more representative of the American center, the numbers in the study show up rather clearly.
At the same time, the finding that a majority of Republicans identify themselves as being on the right would help explain why the centrists currently running against Trump for the 2020 Republican Party nomination are getting little traction—the votes to get them over the line don't exist.
The study also touches on points raised by Dr. Robb Willer and Jan Voelkel in The New York Times. The scientists argued that sociological data supports the idea that presenting progressive policy proposals using centrist or even conservative rhetoric increases support from study participants, further suggesting that there is a capacity in the United States for a board agreement on certain policy issues despite our seeming partisanship.
What this study misses
This study, as explained by Mr. Glaston, does leave a few questions unanswered and has a few glaring issues.
First of all, asking people if they consider themselves centrists is not proof that they hold positions that are actually in the center of mainstream political opinion or would vote for a centrist candidate any more than how North Korea officially being the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" makes it democratic or a republic. Centrist is a very loosely defined term.
The study also found that majorities of respondents both support a smaller government and want that smaller government to provide health care and income for the retried, protect the environment, protect public health through more regulations, and introduce more robust customer protections.
Where that puts the actual consensus is anyone's guess. What this apparent contradiction means for the robustness of the opinions expressed by the respondents is equally in the air.
Glaston also admits to the existence of counterexamples to his rosy thesis when he explains that "polarization remains strong" on issues relating to same-sex marriage and the right for LGTBQ individuals to go about their business without facing discrimination. It may be telling that these, very concrete and easily defined, issues inspire polarization while the vague idea of "doing more" in healthcare is widely endorsed.
The study itself also shows considerable polarization being visible on the issue of gun control, another issue with clear and obvious implications.
Despite the potential faults with the study, the claim that there is more agreement on many political issues than many Americans think remains true. In today's highly polarized and increasingly tense environment, the idea that there are some issues where a majority or near majority of voters are agreed is refreshing.
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Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
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