13 January 2022

Not so polarized?

The above graphic (found via Darwinfish 2) summarizes some of the data from this survey.  Not surprisingly given the current polarized climate, large numbers of people say they wouldn't date or otherwise associate with someone who supports the "other side" politically.  What was most striking to me, though, was how much lower the "would not" numbers are on the Republican side.

This seems counter-intuitive.  The right-wing blogosphere endlessly brands left-wingers as commies, libtards, perverts, traitors to "real America", etc -- if you read it at all, you've seen what I mean.  Right-wing "news" websites are somewhat less insulting toward liberals as persons, but still generally presuppose a state of bitter conflict between two irreconcilable camps, with the enemy (us) being depraved fiends who must be defeated at all costs.  So how is it possible that 69% of Republicans (among college students, anyway), would at least consider dating such monsters?

Remember, though, that those who follow the political blogosphere (right or left) or consume highly-ideological media (Hannity, Maddow, Fox, Daily Kos, etc) are a very small fraction of the total US population.  The extreme polarization does exist, but it may well be concentrated in the most visible and active minority on both sides, with such hostility being lower among the broad mass of people who are less engaged with politics.  After all, it makes sense that those who are most focused on politics, most dogmatic in their stances, and most convinced of the evil of the "other side", would be most likely to seek out media with similar views or to write political blogs.

It will be objected that this was a survey of college students specifically, who are more likely to be open-minded.  But in my experience, it's younger people who are more prone to black-and-white thinking, more dogmatically certain of the correctness of their views, more likely to demonize those who think differently as bigots, haters, Nazis, commies, etc.  The capacity for nuance, for questioning one's own assumptions, for seriously considering the viewpoint of an opponent, etc, seem to develop with maturity.  Of course a substantial number of people never mature in this sense (and it's from among those people that the highly polarized, politically-engaged minority is drawn), but many do.  So it's at least possible that the general population, particularly on the right, resembles the surveyed college students in being much less hateful and polarized than our media and internet landscape suggests.

That's not to say, of course, that the 69% of right-wing students who would consider dating a liberal are completely open-minded and ready to join in a round of kumbaya-singing with the left.  It's more likely that they still consider left-wing political views completely wrong-headed, but merely attach far less importance to political views in evaluating a potential partner (or in life generally) than highly-ideological people do.  But this would still be a hopeful sign that the problem of polarized attitudes is less daunting than we picture it.

Just as one data point, my own posts last year expressing disgust with the "woke" lunacy on the left (such as this one) provoked a flurry of supportive e-mails from readers who never post comments here or, as best I can tell, express their views in public forums at all -- and the first one swearing off politics as a routine topic here led to only about a 15% drop in weekly page views (which has since recovered).  And as best I can tell, my readership doesn't skew particularly young.

I'm not saying that the situation is truly symmetrical.  Lunatic-fringe views are more dangerous and more widespread (and have more of a grip on actual politicians) on the right than on the left, though the gap is clearly narrowing.  But it's a difference of degree.

It would hardly be surprising if growing numbers of normal people are as exhausted and repulsed by the scorched-earth, all-out-war, the-other-side-is-absolute-evil mentality of the US political sphere these days as I am, and want to disengage from it, especially in their personal lives -- and that they are also increasingly aware that the "other side" is less of a problem than the minorities of extremist crazies on both sides.

o o o o o

The soreness and blurred vision in my right eye are slowly improving -- too slowly, but clearly improving.  I have a follow-up appointment tomorrow afternoon.


Blogger NickM said...

Let's assume college students are, in the main, late teens to early 20s (of course there are a few mature students* and a very small number od Dougie Howsers). This survey is of course a snapshot - such things almost invariably are. So... these youngsters probs got their political "awakening" under the Orange One as Prez. I can easily see, if you are, "of the left" and you kinda got into politics (and got to voting age) during that time you would have a much greater animus against the Republicans than if a more likeable (or at least less detestable) Republican was Prez when you came of age. It is a thing to ponder. As is the exact wording of the survey including what is understood by the word "date" here. That word covers quite a bit of territory.

*UK term. Someone who returns to education aged like 30+.

13 January, 2022 04:20  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Glad the eye is better!
And I'd never date a xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, racist right winger. And I'm not even that demographic you're talking about.
Also, Gay Republicans are the scum of the earth.


13 January, 2022 04:32  
Blogger bluzdude said...

You make an important point to remember... those who make the most noise do not necessarily represent the majority. Their ideas can easily be taken for the common view.

My concern is that people should pay more attention to politics because what happens in the political arena often times does affect real lives.

Thanks for the link!

13 January, 2022 05:11  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: That's a good point. Trump was a unique(ly repulsive) president. It would be interesting to see a similar survey from, say, ten years ago, when Obama was the main president young adults would be familiar with.

I think it's also a factor that (a) conservatives are distinctly a minority among college students, and thus have more experience dealing with peers whose views are different from theirs, and (b) the most intolerant and dogmatic elements of the left are strongly concentrated in academia (universities are now among the most ideological, thought-policing environments in the Western world), whereas intolerant right-wingers are more broadly distributed through the general right-wing population.

Sixpence: Thanks about the eye. Still very aggravating, but it's gotten to the point where I can at least concentrate on other things.

What about a right-winger who wasn't xenophobic, homophobic, etc? They exist. From what (admittedly little) I know about gay Republicans, they're mostly financially-well-off people who have no strong views about social issues at all, but just vote for their perceived financial self-interest. Abnormally lacking in empathy, but not really in the same category as the actual haters.

Personally I can deal with differences of opinion (so long as I'm not dragged into arguing and bickering about them) -- both of the women I was most recently with had different views than mine on a lot of issues, though not so much to do with the left-right thing -- but the reality-denial of a lot of right-wingers would be more of a problem. Reasonable people can disagree about stuff like taxes or healthcare, but someone who rejects evolution or global warming, or believes vaccines are a secret plot to kill people, is showing a kind of mental aberration more like the kind of person who sincerely believes he's Napoleon or a giraffe.

Bluzdude: Thanks for posting about the survey and making me aware of it. In many areas, we need to keep aware that the noisiest often don't represent the majority -- and that the internet makes it very easy to find and stick with a "bubble" of like-minded people, so that almost everyone now believes his own views are much more widely held than they actually are.

If more ordinary people got more engaged in politics, then politics probably wouldn't be so repulsive -- but it's probably inevitable that the people with the most fanatical attitudes about something will dedicate the most time and energy to it.

13 January, 2022 06:04  
Blogger NickM said...

Considering you're still blogging and commentating very well I think that sounds like very positive opthalamogical news! Seriously - I know from my mum eye surgery is a slog to go through - though it's better than the "wise woman" of yore...

If I can't find my specs then reading headlines much less writing cogently is a pain. Of course if I've misplaced my spectacles they are the one tool I really need in order to find them... Oh, the lost hours of groping under the bed and finding only underwear and a cat.

I'm instinctively a classical liberal in most respects. So... I can mentally seperate economic from other issues with respect to freedom - sometimes. There are of course points that, empirically, deny that seperation. I'm doing OK these days and was brought-up quite middle-class but I have been dirt poor at times in the past. I know the paradoxical truth that being poor can be surprisingly expensive.

There really is a divide in the US parties. It always amazes me that a country so large and diverse has only two political parties of any real swing. So, obviously, they are both going to be pretty broad churches. I really don't think this is healthy.

I do wonder about Trump. I mean even by his abysmal metrics he failed: "Where's that wall Mr Trump?!". Why he continues to be supported by a base he did fuck-all substantively is beyond me. In my youth I'd engage with online nutters. One once took offence at a comment I made about Hitler. He (I think it was a "he") ubraided me thusly, "How dare you make fun of the 'Greatest Military Strategist of All-Time". I replied, "Aren't 'Great Military Strategists' usually on the winning side?" and left it at that. The "conversation" ended there and I haven't fed a troll for a couple of decades now.

"If more ordinary people got more engaged in politics, then politics probably wouldn't be so repulsive -- but it's probably inevitable that the people with the most fanatical attitudes about something will dedicate the most time and energy to it."

I have a good friend who is on the parish council. He's so pissed off with the whole thing he's had enough. He is a truly decent soul. Now that is very small beer politically - parish council of a village just SE of Manchester... He is forging a new path as a stand-up! I'm doing his website soonish.

13 January, 2022 12:43  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

My husband and I were opposites in all kinds of ways and politically was one of them. We didn't argue about it though so that's probably why it wasn't an issue.

13 January, 2022 13:25  
Blogger Richard said...

I hope your eye is getting better.

I would not date a Republican, i would not be friends with a Republican, i would not marry one, i would not fukk around with anyone who is trying to kill me.

I would never accept that weird religion. I think they are not friendly or nice.

That being said, i would still go visit their shops and chat with them as a neighbor. We still live in the same country.

Just because they want to kill me or convert me, it doesn't mean they are all bad people. I wait for the day when they will be more true to their beliefs.

14 January, 2022 02:17  
Blogger CAS said...

Interesting. Like you, I'm surprised to see the numbers on the right so much lower than those on the left. Perhaps this is indicative of a more tolerant population, but maybe the response is heavily influenced by one's perception of who the opposing presidential candidate is. When college students visualize the Republican presidential candidate, they visual Trump. If they pictured Bush, or Romney, or Lisa Murkowski, would they be as likely to shudder?

I've recently had discussions with my own kids (3 in college) about their consumption of news and how they stay informed about current events. Not surprisingly, they all basically share my outlook on the world. But, they are far more sensitive when it comes to mocking or vilifying people with opposing viewpoints. Sometimes I think this is a good thing. Other times I feel like they need to lighten up.

My guess is that all 3 would avoid dating someone with strong right-wing or religious convictions. As far as the other categories go, I think they would happily associate with people of opposing views--as long as those people didn't spend an inordinate amount of time evangelizing.

Whether young people are more open-minded than older people is an interesting question. In some ways, I feel like my kids simply haven't formed as many opinions yet. But I have to admit that the ones they have formed are practically engraved in stone. :-)

14 January, 2022 10:02  
Blogger SickoRicko said...

I feel today's repugliCONs have mutated into something very frightening and dangerous. To me they are the "them" that needs to be put down to save a decent society. Other than that, I'm calm as a cucumber - NOT.

I hope your eye exam went well.

14 January, 2022 10:44  
Anonymous Ole Phat Stu said...

Wishing your eyesight well !!!

14 January, 2022 14:13  
Blogger Kay said...

This was very interesting. I do have Republican friends and we have Republicans in the family. We avoid talking politics or religion. I suppose we should talk about it, but well... I'd rather not.

14 January, 2022 22:02  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: Writing is part of who I am -- I can hardly imagine not doing it. Having my vision half normal and half blurred was maddeningly distracting for a while -- I wore a patch over the right eye for the first couple of days, but that's distracting and annoying too.

There have been times when I was inches away from becoming homeless. That's certainly true about being poor being more expensive.

The two-party system has worked pretty well for most of our history. At least we avoided the problem of small parties holding the balance of power, as in Israel; ideally a two-party system means that people who refuse to compromise are frozen out of having any power at all, which is a good thing. The problem is that over the last decade, the Republicans have fallen under the sway of lunatic ideas, and now the same is happening with the Democrats. People who aren't nuts are increasingly politically homeless.

As to Trump, when your base believes whatever they want to believe and rejects all conflicting evidence, you don't need to actually accomplish anything -- just keep saying the right things so they want to believe in you.

I remember once talking with a guy who believed that Hitler, although evil, was a brilliant leader. I suggested that a brilliant leader would not have led his country into the position of fighting an all-out war against the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and the United States all at the same time. There is such a thing as biting off more than you can chew.

15 January, 2022 00:37  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary K: I'm glad you were able to make it work. People who aren't consumed by their own ideology often can.

Richard: What about a Republican who wasn't "trying to kill" you? They aren't all alike, any more than all Democrats are alike.

Most of the time I don't even know the politics of people I'm interacting with or buying from.

CAS: It's certainly true that Trump is more repulsive than other recent Republican presidential candidates, and thus raises more red flags about his voters. What I think a lot of Democrats don't realize is that for many of them, it's not a matter of liking what Trump stands for, it's that they see the Democrats as even crazier, and voted for Trump as the lesser of two evils. As of 2020, that included growing numbers of Hispanic and women voters. Most Democrats and leftist bloggers seem completely unable to engage with this issue.

We might be better off with less mockery, but it's very difficult to take people seriously when they believe the Earth is 6,000 years old or vaccines have evil microchips in them or Noah's flood literally happened.

My assessment of young people as more dogmatic is based largely on what I see on the internet (especially Tumblr, which is full of teens and twenty-somethings who are absurdly naïve and dogmatic), and my memories of what I myself was like at that age.

15 January, 2022 00:51  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ricko: A lot of them are. I would just reiterate that they aren't all alike. A surprisingly large number of people who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 also voted for Trump in 2016. Claims that they're all motivated by ideological lunacy or racism can't explain that.

Stu: Thanks! Things seem to be moving in the right direction, despite yesterday.

Kay: Debating such things is usually unproductive and just strains relationships. Unless you think there's a real chance of changing someone's mind, it's not worth it.

15 January, 2022 00:55  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

scary shit.

15 January, 2022 07:58  
Blogger run75441 said...

Hi Infidel:

Try real hard to stay away from this stuff (think of another word in place of this). It is not socialization as it is all out war. Other than asking how people are and then listening, I stay away from the politics. Yet there are some people who are really bold.

We were at Iron Horse Winery exploring the place as my brother knew the owners.He said the wine was not so good. They did have a small museum of interesting items from the Gold Rush days around that area. Angels Camp is not far away. The Frog Jumping Contest was held there and you can see various metal plaques cemented into the sidewalk almost like the stars on Hollywood Blvd. Not much difference. Mark Twain did a short story

We encountered a hulk of a man who had his black"Lets Go Brandon" shirt on with the letters in gold color. I looked at my brother and we both laughed as he passed by. I guess my point to all of this and the story of the frog jumping contest being you do not have to be so obvious in displaying your contempt for a belief in order to be honest about your beliefs.

It is sometimes better to be silent than be the antagonist .

15 January, 2022 12:27  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Granny: Maybe not as much as we thought.

Run75441: I avoid political (or other) arguing as much as possible. One way you can tell the ideological crazies is that they insist on trying to drag you into an argument or provoke you. They can't just be normal and talk about non-fight-picking things.

I would never wear a shirt with a political slogan for the same reason I don't put bumper stickers on my car. It's just pointlessly antagonizing some fraction of the people that see you every day.

18 January, 2022 02:57  

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