Are you the problem?

In the summer of 2017, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Florida State University Douglas J. Ahler and Stanford political scientist Gaurav Sood published a paper titled “The Parties in our Heads: Misperceptions About Party Composition and Their Consequences”.

For people not interested in political science or Human Geography, well it’s a boring paper. But I love both, so it was both interesting and evidence that I am very very lucky to have found a woman who agreed to live with me, because, well…..but I digress…

In that study, Americans were asked to guess how large certain groups within the two main political parties were. Among the many fantastically wrong guesses were a few notable ones:

What percentage of Democrats were members of the LGBTQ community? Respondents said 34.8%. The actual number is 6.3%. What percentage of Republicans make more than $250,000 a year? Respondents said 38.2%. The actual number is 2.2%.

And as much as people are convinced that if you know their political party, you can accurately predict their political preferences, study after study proves this is a horribly unreliable predictor. Put another way, most people suck at understanding their political opponents. While I find this at some level amusing, I also know that this provably false idea people are convinced of is a major variable in the epic polarization and tribalism we are currently experiencing.

Today being able to declare your political and social identity is very important. A mind boggling percentage of Americans, in fear of being the target of hostility, have joined one side or the other, where ANY deviation from the belief system is grounds for ostracization. The whole system feeds into a belief in the pureness and righteousness of out-group hostility. The spiral increases in velocity and the resulting a polarization so strong that bipartisan agreement is absolutely impossible.

We live in a political climate now where John F. Kennedy would get crushed in a Democrat primary, and the friendship between Tip O’Neil and Ronald Reagan would have made Reagan a 1 term RINO President.

In the book “The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations”, it said that in 1960, 5% of Republicans and 4% of Democrats disapproved of their kids marrying someone outside of their political party. Not 6 years ago, a study asking the same question showed that 30% of Republicans and 23% of Democrats would disapprove.

We are walking away from each other at an increasingly faster pace. More and more, we are content to surround ourselves with only people who think like we do. Less and less, do we identify with other Americans that trump our political differences.

I have friends who not only believe this, but proudly announce it all over social media, that they are members of XYZ political tribe, and if you don’t agree then screw you. They believe what they believe, and the LAST thing they ever want to do is discuss it. “persuade” is a four-letter word for “convert”.

An article in the Atlantic quoted a study that concluded that 80% of Americans think “political correctness is a problem in our country”. But, if you talk to individuals, nobody wants to admit it out of fear that their tribe will not approve of this kind of “hate talk”.

Sadly, the wealthiest, and most educated political demographic seems to also be the ones making all the noise about how horrible things are. While we hear how racially and gender divided we are today, I struggle to mesh that with this: In 1958, general acceptance of interracial marriage was at 4%. In 2010 it was 87%. And at a time when people insist that we live in a systemically patriarchal society, multiple studies showed that in 1980, 2% more females in the top income group graduated from college than did males, but in 2016 that number increased to 13% percent more women than men in the highest income group graduating from college. As of 2018, the overall college graduation rate for men is 22%, whereas it is 32% for women.

What I am saying is that racism and sexism are in measurable, quantifiable, and provable decline, but political tribalism is on the rise.

The belief that our group identity is paramount, is going to destroy us all. Leaving aside our natural response to visual stimuli for a moment, when the first thing you notice about someone is their race, gender, or ethnicity, you have stopped looking at that person. If that is how you see people….YOU ARE THE PROBLEM. Not your politics, your beliefs, your experiences, but you the individual are the problem.