Get smarter, faster. Subscribe to our daily newsletter.
3 reasons why American politics have become so divisive – study
Partisan division has reached its peak, shows an alarming new study that identifies three crucial components.
- American political polarization has reached alarming heights, shows a new study.
- Democrats and Republicans hate the other side more than they love their own party.
- The polarization grows worse despite the fact that differences between the sides are not so dramatic.
To say that the current election is stressful and divisive is beyond an understatement. The United States is strained at the seams, ready to explode no matter who wins the presidency. A new study shows just how bad it's become, with anger at the opposing party now outstripping the love a supporter might have for their own party. To put it in other words: People hate those on the opposite side of the political spectrum more than they care for their own.
Is this a recipe for disaster? The study describes the current political attitudes in the country as "political sectarianism," linking it to religious fervor. The research also shows that, for many, political identity has become their primary identity.
The study's lead author Eli Finkel, professor of social psychology at Northwestern University, described the dangers of the situation:
"The current state of political sectarianism produces prejudice, discrimination and cognitive distortion, undermining the ability of government to serve its core functions of representing the people and solving the nation's problems," said Finkel. "Along the way, it makes people increasingly willing to support candidates who undermine democracy and to favor violence in support of their political goals."
Finkel's conclusions are based on a survey of dozens of published researched studies, going back to the 1970s. The research drew on the expertise of co-authors from six disciplines: political science, psychology, economics, sociology, management as well as computational social science.
The authors identified three specific behavioral reasons that have led to political sectarianism:
1. "Othering" – seeing the other side as different.
2. "Aversion" – seeing the other side as unlikable.
3. "Moralization" – seeing the other side as immoral.
The scientists found that while people have kept their positive and warm feelings towards their own partisans, the predominant sentiment towards the other party has turned to outright hatred.
The study's co-author James Druckman, political science professor at Northwestern, thinks that not only have things become much worse in the past decade, "there is no sign we've hit bottom."
"As much as the parties differ from one another, partisans perceive even greater differences, believing, for example, that the other party is ideologically extreme, engaged and hostile," explained Druckman. "Correcting these types of misperceptions could partially vitiate sectarianism."
If you've been following the state of the electioneering in the U.S., such a conclusion is no surprise. It has become commonplace for partisans to pour vitriol on those they disagree with, slinging unfounded accusations and personal slurs, unfriending them on social media, yelling at them in the streets. Is widespread violence not far behind?
A President Donald Trump and a former Vice President Joe Biden supporter talk before the Joe Biden Campaign Rally at the National World War I Museum and Memorial on March 7, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Credit: Kyle Rivas/Getty Images
The authors identified specific causes for the growing political sectarianism:
- "Identity alignment," which has separated political affiliation based on a "mega identity" that stems from racial, religious, educational and geographic differences.
- The rise of partisan media, with the viewers politically split based on whether they follow conservative outlets like Fox News, Breitbart or OAN News versus the liberal-minded CNN or MSNBC.
- "Elite ideological polarization" where both parties cater to the fringe elements who are more ideologically extreme than the center; politicians on both sides have been moving either farther right or farther left.
How do we stop the bitterness and anger from spreading, further endangering our democracy and the very survival of the United States? Perhaps not surprisingly, the researchers encourage dialogue with the other side, along with working to correct misconceptions people have of those on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
"If the differences between Democrats and Republicans really were as extreme as Americans believe, that could help to explain the contempt," Finkel noted. "But these differences exist more in people's heads than in reality. There's a whole lot of common ground, but Americans struggle to see it."
The researchers also suggest other measures like adjusting social media algorithms to prevent the spread of false or hyperpartisan information, incentivizing politicians to reach out to a wider group of Americans, instituting campaign finance reforms, and preventing partisan gerrymandering.
If you're wondering how the U.S. compares to other countries, research from Brown University released in January 2020 found that the polarization in the U.S. has increased much more from the late 1970s than in the eight other countries the scientists studied—the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland, Norway and Sweden.
Check out the new study "Political sectarianism in America" published in the journal Science.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.