If you’re American (or particularly politically active), your Facebook page is probably littered with various reactions to the Supreme Court decision this morning. They likely fall into one of three categories:
- “Good news, because now people will be able to get health care!”
- “Bad news, because we could have done a lot better”
- “GOODBYE DEMOCRACY AND AMERICAN FREEDOM! SOCIALIST OBAMA IS A MARXIST ANTICHRIST!”
You may feel like the country is just getting more and more crazily polarized as people are seemingly unable to see political stories as anything besides good or the worst thing to ever happen ever. The United States constitution has been declared dead more times than Hosini Mubarak in the past few years, despite the fact that if the decision had gone the other way, exactly nobody who opposes the ACA would be lamenting the influence of “activist judges” or “judicial overreach”. That would be reserved for the proponents.
Well, apparently your instincts aren’t wrong:
It hardly took another study for people to know that political polarization in this country is deeply embedded. Still, a report issued Monday by the Pew Research Center paints a particularly stark portrait of a nation in which the most significant divisions are no longer based on race, class or sex but on political identity.
For 25 years, Pew has been conducting regular surveys assessing American values. They provide a series of historical benchmarks by which to examine the changes in what binds people and what divides them. The latest report finds considerable continuity over that quarter-century in the way different groups view society — and one very large change.
Republicans and Democrats have long seen the world through different lenses. On some issues, the gaps between them are relatively small (the importance of political engagement, for example). On others they are wider. What Pew found is that in almost every measure, those gaps have increased over the past 25 years, and in some cases now seem to represent almost unbridgeable divisions.
So unlike other times where people proclaim that things are getting worse (like crime or abortion or taxes), it turns out that this is in fact one of those times where things did actually used to be better. There are a few things that I found surprising in this report:
Andrew Kohut, who directed the study, said two things are notable. One is that, “by and large, values haven’t changed. The other is that political identity has eclipsed these other factors” such as race and class as the biggest sources of division.
Like we saw in the Proposition 8 vote, race pales in comparison to party affiliation when it comes to predicting how people vote. I am surprised to see that racial and class divides are overpowered by this, as those had traditionally been the great dividers in American political life. Depressingly, of course, it is not that people have come together across racial and class lines; it’s that they’ve just started hating across the political aisles much more.
The thing that doesn’t surprise me at all is that it is attributable mostly to Republicans going absolutely insane:
Far from it being a “plague on both (our) houses”, Republicans have begun deciding that “fuck you, pay me” is the way to run a society. So yeah… it doesn’t just seem that way.
So yeah, poke around the report. Lots of interesting stuff in there. If you uncover a finding that you think warrants further exploration, let me know in the comments!
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