It turns out that despite all the progress we have supposedly made, Americans are growing more politically closed-minded.
In the 1960s, a group of researchers asked Americans how they would feel if their daughter or son married someone of a differing political ideology. The consensus was basically that nobody gave a shit—only four percent of Democrats and five percent of Republicans said they’d be displeased.
In 2008, that number increased to 20 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of Republicans, according to a poll by YouGov. By 2010, that number had leapt to 33 percent and 49 percent, respectively.
Shanto Iyengar, director of Stanford’s political communications lab and one of the researchers behind the initial study, also found that people were less likely to offer scholarships to more qualified candidates if they had different political views. Iyengar, along with Sean J. Westwood, also designed an implicit bias test that you can take here. The test found that Americans were more partisan than they were racist.
Iyengar and Westwood’s research is a fundamental challenge to the way we like to believe American politics works. A world where we won’t give an out-party high schooler with a better GPA a nonpolitical scholarship is not a world in which we’re going to listen to politicians of the other side on emotional, controversial issues — even if they’re making good arguments that are backed by the facts.
Iyengar’s initial insight was that political polarization might be less about policy than it is about identity, and his research more than proves it.
A Pew Research Center study confirmed Iyengar and Westwood’s findings, noting that partisan animosity is at its highest point in two decades. Most “intense partisans” believe that the opposite party’s beliefs are “so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”
“The old theory was political parties came into existence to represent deep social cleavages,” Iyengar told Vox. “But now party politics has taken on a life of its own—now it is the cleavage.”
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