An initiative called More in Common has launched a year-long effort to repair our broken political discourse.
“America has never felt so divided,” the organization says on its website. “Bitter debates that were once confined to Congressional hearings and cable TV have now found their way into every part of our lives, from our Facebook feeds to the family dinner table.”
In a report called “The Hidden Tribes of America,” researchers acknowledge healthy societies have always seen disagreements.
“Today, however, these differences are becoming more difficult to mediate,” the report says. “Liberals and conservatives are moving farther apart, and tribal tensions are boiling over more regularly in politics and media as well as in daily life.”
The researchers say about a third of us fall at opposite ends of the political spectrum.
They describe about 8 percent of us as Progressive Activists, a group it classifies as generally younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan and angry.
At the other end of the spectrum are Devoted Conservatives, described as white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising and patriotic. Researchers say these folks make up about 6 percent of the population.
Another 19 percent the report calls Traditional Conservatives, described as religious, middle class, patriotic and moralistic.
These three groups make up what the report calls the “wings,” folks who tend to be entrenched in their views and not particularly interested in listening to the other side.
The rest of us, about two-thirds of the population, fall into what the report calls the Exhausted Majority. The researchers divide this group into Traditional Liberals, Passive Liberals, the Politically Disengaged and Moderates.
“Members of the Exhausted Majority are considerably more ideologically flexible than members of other groups,” the researchers say. “While members of the ‘wing’ group (on both the left and the right) tend to hold strong and consistent views across a range of political issues, those in the Exhausted Majority tend to deviate significantly in their views from issue to issue.”
The study found 3 percent of Devoted Conservatives believe government should take more responsibility to make sure everyone is provided for while 94 percent of Progressive Activists believe that.
It found 92 percent of Devoted Conservatives believe hard work will always lead to success while only 5 percent of Progressive Activists believe that.
Researchers say nearly all Progressive Activists see hate speech as a problem while only half of Devoted Conservatives do. At the same time, only 30 percent of Progressive Activists see political correctness as a problem while nearly all Devoted Conservatives do.
“In contrast,” the report says, “the Exhausted Majority of Americans is concerned about both.”
Part of what divides us, the study says, are news organizations such as Fox News and MSNBC with a business model that fosters polarization.
“The environment of tribalism has been intensified by social media,” the report says. “Through the creation of filter bubbles and echo chambers, social media tends to polarize those who are most involved in public debates.”
And then, of course, there’s the internet.
“Where trust in traditional media has declined,” the report says, “false information can spread widely and information can be micro-managed to specific audiences.”
The good news, the researchers say, is that most of us are tired of the “us-versus-them” mindset. We’re ready to find common ground.
“This is the message we’ve heard from more than 8,000 Americans in one of our country’s largest-ever studies of polarization,” the researchers say. “We hold dissimilar views on many issues. However, more than three in four Americans also believe that our differences aren’t so great that we can’t work together.”
Maybe there’s still hope.