When Did Politics Get So Personal?

elephant butt

I believe I have really good GOPdar. That is to say, I cannot see myself ever dating a Republican chap. Ever. Of course, it’s generally good practice to avoid absolutes. Typically, only mathematicians and Siths deal in absolutes, while the rest of us operate on an organic sliding meter of commitment to any one thing at a given time. Even those moments when we are really pressed to make a decision, DVR can usually solve the problem.

So, about the Republican thing…

How do I actually know that Mr. Right, won’t be Mr. Right-wing? First is the birds of a feather theory, aka, lack of diversity. I definitely do not believe in any form of segregation, but regardless of whether it’s a conscious or subconscious decision, the fact is all of my friends align fairly closely with my own political perspective. That’s just how we roll. It not necessarily homogenous though. There’s no overarching societal divisiveness that bonds us; the usual black/white, gay/straight, Christian/Jew, vegan/Arby’s distinctions usually go without comment. Instead, I tend to believe it is a matter of practicality. Take for example, those pictures of the Serengeti. The lions are lounging in an Acacia tree while wildebeests graze of in the distance. All’s good. But the dynamic takes a definite turn if they end up right next to each other. Same with Republicans.

Sure a Clippers fan will chat it up with a Warriors fan. A ‘Nole will even converse with a Gator – if only to talk smack about Alabama. But if I see a cutie in the crowd and he turns around with a “#Trump2016” t-shirt and it’s game over. Why do I care so much about someone’s politics? Well, it’s the way things are nowadays. In the New York Times OP-ED “How Did Politics Get So Personal?” Thomas B. Edsall touches on this modern phenomena.

Edsall cites a study, “Affect, Not Ideology.” The study used extreme polarized political stances as the opposing ends of a spectrum, a “thermometer rating” — very liberal Democrat to very conservative Republican — when asking party members how he/she felt about the other party. The scale had a numerical component, that ranged from one (being that they felt very “cold” towards the group) to one hundred degrees (being that they felt very “warm” towards the group). One of the findings through this rating system is that “in 2008 that Democrat and Republican ratings of the opposition party had dropped to just below 32 degrees.” That’s right, freezing. But wait, there’s more. This experiment had collected information from as far back as the 60’s. In the 50 year time span from 1960 to 2010, the rating of both Democrats and Republicans who felt that members of their own respective party are smarter than members of the opposing party shot up noticeably from 6% to 48%. In the same timeframe, the instance that members of each party found the opposition party to be “selfish.” Those numbers? 21% became 47%. The conclusion drawn from the study was that, since people of a party don’t seem to interact with those of the opposing party (i.e. democratic ladies don’t date guys in Marco Rubio hoodies), they are more likely to believe these characterizations and stereotypes of the opposing party and its members.

Here’s another study. The Pew Research Center, a panel survey that takes its information from the same representative group of randomly selected American adults various times during a campaign, took a poll during the 2014 elections, sectioning voter ideology into different groups (consistently liberal, mostly liberal, mixed, mostly conservative, consistently conservative). What they found only added to the increasing presence and phenomena of the political polarization in the American public. For example, electorates – or voters – who are more likely to fulfill their civic duty and follow politics, are usually more ideologically oriented. That being stated, it was also found that negative feelings toward the other party, a “key marker of polarization,” drive party members to vote. It was found to have a strong, directly proportional relationship; the higher the negative feeling towards the opposing party, the higher the chance of voter turnout. This was especially true for Republicans. Although this might sound obvious, the hostility between the two main political parties has increased dramatically in the last 20 years. It almost goes hand in hand to say that another finding in this 2014 election study was that split tickets are incredibly rare—about eight in ten voters will be submitting straight ballots.

Historically, Democrats and Republicans have always been at odds, however, it is generally accepted that the present animosity we are experiencing started with Republican Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” manifesto (re: The U.S. Senate: from Deliberation to Dysfunction) about 20 years ago. This ‘our way or no way’ party mentality has resulted in the stifled government the past seven years. Pew Research has delved in the mechanics of this phenomena, called Political Polarization. Going back to 1994, the study identifies a clear progression in political, let’s call it steadfastness. In 1994, Ace of Base was topping the charts and 16% of Democrats viewed Republicans unfavorably. Today, Justin Bieber has two songs in the top ten and that number has increased to 57% (there may be some correlation there as well). In the same time period, Republican attitudes against Democrats has gone from 17% to 68%.

Back to why I won’t be canoodling with the Dark Side. Thing is, it seems as though it is not just me. A similar negative sentiment runs in the family, literally, everyone’s families. In 1960, 4% of Democrats and 5% of Republicans said they would be “displeased” if a member of their family married outside the party. In 1960, people used the word ‘displeased.’ In 2008, the displeasure over the thought of a bipartisan marriage had risen to 20% (D) and 27% (R). Only a couple years later in 2010, the numbers were 33% and 48% respectively. And we can assume they were not using the word ‘displeased’ any longer.

It’s not me, it’s you. Recently, Professor Jonathan Haidt of New York University’s Stern School of Business and Social Psychologist Thomas Talhelm of the University of Virginia, collaborated on a paper titled “Liberals Think More Analytically than Conservatives.” Tell me more. Apparently, it is not just that conservatives and liberals hold differing opinions, it’s that they altogether think differently. Liberals “have a stronger preference for deep thought and a rejection of simple solutions. Liberals are more tolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty, and they have less of a need for order, structure and closure.” “The analytic thinking typical of liberals is “more conscious, more focused on the rules of logic.” Do tell.

Conservatives, on the other hand, are typically holistic thinkers. Conservatives perceive “scenes as a whole and seeing people as a product of situations.” Talhelm considers this style of thinking as “more automatic, caught up in emotions, and in some ways less adherent to the rules of logic”. In the most simplistic terms, liberals see the forest for the trees, whereas conservatives see the forest. Liberal individualism versus conservative collectivism.

Given, all the current economical and societal forces that continue to foster this strict partisan loyalty that makes compromise and tolerance the words of failure, I do not see the likelihood of any Alex P. Keatons serenading me and that’s probably not good for any of us.



Found in 2016 Spring Print Edition

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