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.
States set their own voting laws, so where does this make voting easiest?
- A new report out of Northern Illinois University lists how easy it is to vote in each state.
- The report can be compared to previous indexes, showing where it is getting easier and more difficult to vote.
- The authors also note that dramatically improving the ease of voting is simple and cost effective.
Deciding how to vote has taken on another meaning this year, with an unprecedented number of Americans voting by mail in hopes of avoiding the pandemic. Given the highly variable nature of voting regulations in the United States, some areas are seeing improvements in the ease of voting while others are finding out there is only one drop box for absentee ballots per county.
As part of their regular efforts to rank voting procedures, a team of researchers has listed all 50 states in order of how simple or difficult they make voting and highlighted the extreme fluctuations that some states have made over the past four years.
How the Laboratories of Democracy do with the whole “democracy” thing.
Political scientists Scot Schraufnagel of Northern Illinois University, Michael J. Pomante II of Jacksonville University, and Quan Li of Wuhan University in China compare the ease or difficulty of voting in each state with their "Cost of Voting Index."
As in previous years, the research team created an index allowing them to rank each state's laws and regulations concerning aspects of voting.
This included considerations of when voters had to register by, if felons could vote or register, if registration drives were allowed, if automatic registration policies existed, if voting was a state holiday, how many voting stations were in each state, how complex it is to request a mail-in ballot, how long polling stations are open, how many documents are needed to register and vote, and other such concerns.
Taken together, these questions consider all facets of being able to vote, from how difficult it is to register to the trouble of actually getting your ballot, either by mail or in person. Each issue was broken down into various considerations and scored. Those considerations that made voting more difficult (for example, a rule not allowing felons to register to vote while in jail) earned more points than those that made voting more accessible.
For determining how polling hours and the number of days polls were open impacted voters, the average number of poll hours and the number of early voting days were reverse coded, meaning that more time to vote contributed to a lower score.
After scoring the states, the researchers organized them in a convenient list with the states where voting is most straightforward on top.
Where democracy is easiest to do
A map showing where voting is easy (low numbers) and where it is more difficult (high numbers).
Northern Illinois University
As you can see from the above map, Oregon retained its top spot on the strength of its automatic voter registration policies, extensive vote by mail program, and myriad opportunities to vote early. Washington and Utah, with their similar vote by mail programs, round out the top three.
Despite lacking the same vote by mail programs as the previously mentioned states, Illinois made it to fourth place on the strength of its absentee voting policies.
The other end of the scale features Texas, Georgia, Missouri, and Mississippi. Texas earned its low score partly because of its declining number of places to vote and registration cut off 30 days before the election.
Where are the ratings going up? Where are they going down?
By comparing these results with those of 2016, it is no issue to see where voting is getting easier and where it is getting more difficult. Perhaps more importantly, it allows us to see what policies can cause which outcomes.
Those interested in making it easier to vote in their state can look to the reforms passed in Virginia and Michigan for inspiration. This year, Virginia's state government passed a slew of reforms making voting more accessible, including an automatic voter registration law and the designation of election day as a holiday. This allowed the state to move up 37 spots to its current position of 12.
Michigan passed similar reforms by referendum in 2018, allowing it to move up 32 spots to 13.
They can also take heart at the authors' references to studies showing that some of these reforms, such as online voter registration, actually reduce the administrative costs of running elections, making them very attractive for those interested in governmental efficiency. Additionally, lead author Scot Schraufnagel suggests that making it simpler to vote can increase turnout.
On the other hand, if you want to make it more difficult to vote, the index shows you how to achieve that too.
West Virginia, Missouri, and Iowa all fell 19 spots over the last four years. Co-author Michael J. Pomante explains that these declines are caused in part by the lack of "a willingness to modernize their policies to ease the difficultly of voting and stay current with election law trends we see in many other states."
It is worth noting that this report was published on October 13 and was based on information collected before that time. Some of the ratings might be slightly outdated in light of shifting rules on where and when ballots can be returned in some states. However, the report does include a separate section for changes made in response to the pandemic.
Curiously, while many states in the middle of the pack moved around dramatically in the rankings due to their responses, the top and bottom four appear to have remained the same.
How straightforward voting is in the United States is highly variable based on where you live. While some states strive to make it as easy as possible, others retain laws making participation in our democracy burdensome and time-consuming. This index provides a way to understand how our democracy evolves over time and what makes it more accessible to more people.
What will be done with that information is up to the people.
Younger Americans support expanding the Supreme Court and serious political reforms, says new poll.
- Americans under 40 largely favor major political reforms, finds a new survey.
- The poll revealed that most would want to expand the Supreme Court, impose terms limits, and make it easier to vote.
- Millennials are more liberal and reform-centered than Generation Z.
A new nonpartisan poll of Americans under 40 finds they want serious reforms in the American political system. The survey, conducted by the University of Massachusetts Lowell, showed great support for expanding the Supreme Court, terms limits, and abolishing the electoral college.
In particular, the researchers looked at opinions from 1,503 people between 18 and 39 years old, representing millennials – those born from early 1980s to mid-1990s, and the succeeding Generation Z – those born in the mid-to-late 1990s until early 2010s. Overall, most everyone agreed that the political system is quite broken, with only 24 percent having trust in the government. Interestingly, millennials appear more liberal-minded and want reforms more than the younger cohort.
The majority of the polled (52 percent) were in favor of upping the number of Supreme Court justices from nine to 13, with 66 percent of the millennials and 62 percent of the Gen Z'ers supporting. Seventy-two percent of all surveyed wanted to do away with lifetime appointments of the justices and impose term limits. Seventy-nine percent of the millennials and 62 percent of Gen Z approved this measure. Eighty-four percent of all surveyed wanted Congressional term limits.
Political science professor John Cluverius, associate director of the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion, which carried out the poll, sees a correlation between the views of the younger Americans and the politics in the run-up to the 2020 elections:
"It's no coincidence that as Joe Biden's lead has grown in the polls, the more comfortable Americans are with expanding the size of the Supreme Court," said Cluverius in a press release. "As the chance of Trump holding a second term and appointing more justices dwindles, the opposition to court-packing dwindles as well. Saying Americans are opposed to expanding the court used to be conventional wisdom; now it's a commonly held misconception."
Americans under 40 also want to eliminate the Electoral College and rather pick Presidents by popular vote, with 58 percent overall in favor to the idea. That includes 64 percent of millennials and 54 percent of Gen Z people polled. Sixty-nine percent of all adults also like the idea of "no excuse" absentee balloting for any voter. Additionally, 71 percent of millennials would rather see more than two political parties being competitive in the U.S., compared to 61 percent of all and 59 percent of Gen Z participants.
On the issues of social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement, the poll found 8 percent fewer overall saying that Black people are treated less fairly than whites, in contrast to a similar poll from August. Forty-three percent of the respondents had such opinions, with Gen Z'ers leading in this belief at 54 percent.
Joshua Dyck, director of the Center for Public Opinion and associate professor of political science, commented that the ideological divide didn't break down in an expected way:
"What I find most interesting is that it is not always the youngest Americans who espouse the most liberal viewpoints," he shared." Here we see millennials, the oldest of whom are about to turn 40, as the driving force behind the vision for a more progressive future."
The poll also revealed that the vast majority of Gen Z (84 percent) and millennial (85 percent) responders are very likely to believe that human activity contributes to climate change. They also think the U.S. government has not done enough to combat it, with 64 percent of Gen Z'ers and 65 percent of millennials holding such views.
Americans under 40 are also largely in favor of canceling all student loan debt, with 66 percent of Generation Z and 66 percent of millennials supporting. In a telling comparison, the older generations are less on board, with Gen X'ers (those born from mid-60s to early 1980s) split, with 51 percent favoring the idea. Only 38 percent of the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) and 31 percent of the Silent Generation (born 1928 to 1945) back the notion.
Check out the detailed results of the poll.
A simple postcard can improve voter registration rates. Who knew?
- An experiment in getting more people to register to vote in Pennsylvania shows that a simple postcard can get big results.
- Just mailing a reminder to those who were eligible to register increased registration rates by 15 percent.
- The study is one of the first to seriously look at registration drives.
For as much as Americans like to advertise that they live in the "land of the free" and sing the praises of democracy, they are terrible at actually voting. American voter turnout is dismally low compared to other industrialized nations, and voter turnout in a presidential election was last above 60 percent in 1968.
At least part of the reason for this is the almost unique system of first needing to register to vote. This system has been identified as a factor in why voter turnout is often low. Many people simply don't know how to register, others don't know that they need to, and still more cannot be bothered to do so.
However, a new study seeking new ways to improve voter turnout at low cost has found that voter turnout can be substantially increased among those who begin as unregistered for little more than the price of a postage stamp.
How to get people to register to vote without breaking the bank
The study, carried out by political scientists from major American universities with the State of Pennsylvania's assistance, sent postcards to eligible but unregistered (EBU) Pennsylvanians to see if they would register to vote at higher rates than those who were not sent a card.
Pennsylvania is part of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) collection of states. This group, consisting of several states and Pew Charitable trusts, exists to improve registration rates and voter rolls' accuracy. The states in ERIC all agreed to make serious efforts to reach out to at least 95 percent of all of their eligible but unregistered voters before each election. This means that they have a list of these people, something other states lack.
Taking advantage of this situation, the authors of the study devised a variety of postcards to send to EBUs to satisfy the state's obligations to mail out to the required 95 percent of EBUs and used the remaining 5 percent as a control group.
The simplest postcards explained how easy it was to register to vote online and provided the required web address. More complicated versions included a QR code option and a section explaining that online registration was created in response to voter demand. All of them were designed in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of State and had the hallmarks of an officially sanctioned, state-issued mailer.
The EBUs who were to be contacted were randomly assigned to groups getting one of four possible postcard designs. After the election, the researchers were able to see that the groups that received mailers of any kind registered at a rate of around 8 percent, compared to 7 percent of those who did not receive any postcard. The rate at which those who registered and ultimately voted was similar in all groups. The increase in voter registration was particularly substantial for younger voters, a historically tricky demographic to motivate.
There was little difference in the turnout of those who got the simple postcard and those who got the complex ones or those with specific phrasing. The authors suggest that this means the reminder and essential information are what's vital to maximizing turnout by this method.
Now, while a 1 percent overall improvement might seem low, remember that the control group had a measly 7 percent turnout. That 1 percent overall improvement represents a significant increase in comparison. In an election where turnout nationally was just over 50 percent and 60 percent in Pennsylvania, that increase is noteworthy.
It is even more impressive when you remember that Pennsylvania's electoral votes were decided by a fraction of a percent last time.
This is great and all, but what can I do with this information?
The authors suggest that their findings have several implications for people trying to get out the vote and political scientists more broadly, writing in the study:
"We find that a single postcard sent by state election officials several weeks before the election can produce meaningful increases in both registration and turnout. Even in the context of Pennsylvania, a hotly contested swing state which ranked third in terms of campaign visits by the 2016 presidential and vice-presidential candidates, contact by state officials appeared to reach individuals who had not yet been contacted or persuaded to register by the campaigns or other mobilization groups."
They suggest that further study is needed, as there is a limited amount of literature on registration drives in compilation to attempts to turn out already registered voters.
More broadly, these findings lend credence to the idea that very many people who don't vote would like to, or at least would, if given the right information. This will prove useful to those trying to improve voter turnout. More importantly, once registered, most of these people ended up voting.
However, it must also be remembered that the percentage of notified people who registered in the end was still abysmally low—suggesting that many people who are not registered have more complicated reasons for not signing up to vote.
American voter turnout is low. This study shows that a simple postcard can help raise voter turnout without turning to solutions that would alter how registration and voting are done. Given the importance that Americans place on their democratic traditions, perhaps some people can expect a postcard from their Uncle Sam before too long.
Don't feel like going out to vote? These ten thinkers have something to tell you.
- Everybody occasionally wonders if they should bother to vote.
- To help out, we have quotes from 10 great minds explaining why voting, and participation in politics in general, is the right thing to do.
- Some of them will inspire you, some will scare you, and some are pretty funny.
"To give the victory to the right, not bloody bullets, but peaceful ballots only, are necessary." — Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th, and possibly greatest, president of the United States. Viewed in the Victorian era as a champion of people's rights and democracy, he here reminds us that the ballot is one of the greatest tools ever devised for the advancement of the good.
"We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all." — Pericles
Pericles was an Athenian general known for his oratory and political skill. Here, he refers to the Athenian take on political participation. So important was the idea of being involved to the Athenians that our word "idiot" comes from the Greek term idiōtēs, meaning "private citizen"—one who wasn't involved in the public life of politics.
Listen to Pericles; don't be an idiot.
"Every election is determined by the people who show up." — Larry Sabato
Larry Sabato is a professor and political scientist at the University of Virginia who is well known for his predictions of election outcomes and his work to increase civic participation.
Here, he reminds us of who has the power in a democracy: The people who actually go vote. If you don't participate, you don't have any power. It really is as simple as that.
"If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost." — Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who studied under Plato and wrote on a multitude of topics. He wrote extensively on political philosophy and made a point of categorizing the different forms of governance which were known to the Greek world.
While he wasn't in favor of unrestricted democratic governance—he favored mixed government that had a firm constitutional basis—he did argue that democracy had its benefits and that some forms of it worked better than others. Here, he notes that a democracy where everybody is involved, either through voting or serving as a magistrate, allows the claims of those who favor democracy to be fully realized.
"One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors." — Plato
Plato was a Greek philosopher known for his writings on pretty much every topic. He was a follower of Socrates, and it is through Plato's books that we remember him.
Here, he states what every person who can't imagine why anybody would ever vote for "that idiot" has always known to be true.
"The only way to practice democracy, is to practice democracy." — Hu Shih
Hu Shih was a Chinese philosopher who worked in a variety of fields. His political work was heavily inspired by his college professor John Dewey. Like Dewey, he argued in favor of a pragmatic approach to social progress made possible by a democratic government and gradualist policies.
He also equated democracy with other ideas such as tolerance, minority rights, and placing value on the individual. These notions would also be advanced by a person who is "practicing" democracy.
Here, he gives a tautology that needs to be said. A democracy is only real when people go out and take part in it. Voting is the most basic element of this. Think of it: If you don't vote, then how is your life any different than if you lived in a dictatorship?
"Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote." – George Jean Nathan
George Nathan was an American editor and critic who often worked with the better remembered H.L Mencken.
Here, he reminds us that every lousy politician was voted into office by somebody. If you fancy yourself a good person and would like competent officials, it stands to reason that you ought to vote for them so they can get into office.
"Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it." — Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony was an American suffragette, reformer, and anti-slavery activist known for her work for women's rights.
She worked for much of her life to win women the vote and was arrested for it when she cast her ballot. She founded or co-founded a variety of organizations to advance the cause of suffrage and worked for years to create the political capital that would one day buy the 19th amendment to the constitution.
With this quote, she begins to hint at the efforts she put into helping assure the right to vote for women in the United States and the efforts put in by others to maintain that right for everybody. It is a lot to throw away by not voting.
"If American women would increase their voting turnout by 10 percent, I think we would see an end to all of the budget cuts in programs benefiting women and children.” — Coretta Scott King
The wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and an activist in her own right, Coretta Scott King has an impressive list of achievements that are often overlooked in favor of her husband's work.
She reminds us that not voting has real consequences. If people who need particular polices can be counted on not to vote, those policies will not be enacted. Conversely, if they do vote, they can get the policies they need.
Her words are needed in a day and age when increasing numbers of people are somewhat cynical about whether their vote matters.
"Turn on to politics, or politics will turn on you." — Ralph Nader
An American lawyer known for his repeated runs for the presidency and consumer advocacy, Ralph Nader updates another quote by Pericles for a modern audience.
Just because you don't have an interest in how government works, doesn't mean it doesn't affect you. Plenty of people have made the mistake of thinking that a new government wouldn't try to do exactly what it said it would do and paid the price for it. The best solution for it, both in ancient Athens and the modern world, is to participate.
So, there you have it: Ten perfectly good reasons as to why you should vote. Now stop reading and do it.