April 3, 2018

THE lEFT IS THE rIGHT:

A NEW STUDY SHOWS HOW AMERICAN POLARIZATION IS DRIVEN BY A TEAM SPORT MENTALITY, NOT BY DISAGREEMENT ON ISSUES (Zaid Jilani, April 3 2018, The Intercept)

[W]hat if the source of this polarization has little do with where people actually fall on the issues, or what people actually believe in? What if people are simply polarized by political labels like "liberal" and "conservative" and what they imagine their opponents to be like more than they are by disagreements over issues like taxes, abortion, and immigration?

That news wouldn't surprise anybody who's spent time battling it out in a news outlet's comment section, and it's the firm conclusion of new research by Lilliana Mason, a professor at the University of Maryland.

Her paper, "Ideologues Without Issues: the Polarizing Consequences of Ideological Identities," published in late March by Public Opinion Quarterly, uses 2016 data from Survey Sampling International and American National Election Studies to study how and why Americans are politically polarized.

She used measures that identify both where people stand on issues and how they identify their political clan. For issues, she took six major ones from the survey: "immigration, the Affordable Care Act, abortion, same-sex marriage, gun control, and the relative importance of reducing the deficit or unemployment." Additionally, she used their measurements of social identity on a range from liberal to conservative.

She then sought to correlate these answers with questions where respondents answered whether they would prefer to live next door to, marry, be friends with, or spend social time with someone who differs from them politically.

She found that the political identity people adopt was far more predictive of their preferences for social interaction.

For instance, "moving from the least identified to the most identified with an ideological label increases preference for marrying inside the ideological group by 30 percentage points." In other words, if you are a committed liberal, you're much more likely to want to live next to other committed liberals. But if you just disagree strongly with them about a specific issue like abortion, not so much.

She writes, "The effect of issue-based ideology is less than half the size of identity-based ideology in each element of social distance. ... These are sizable and significant effects, robust to controls for issue-based ideology, and they demonstrate that Americans are dividing themselves socially on the basis of whether they call themselves liberal or conservative, independent of their actual policy differences."

"There's been a debate within political science for a long time about whether or not the American public is polarized," Mason said in an interview with The Intercept. "I'm sort of making this argument that as you have multiple social identities that line up together, people hate their out groups more regardless of their policy positions."

She noted, for instance, that Americans who identify most strongly as conservative, whether they hold more left-leaning or right-leaning positions on major issues, dislike liberals more than people who more weakly identify as conservatives but may hold very right-leaning issue positions.

It's a function of feeling, not thought, so it's as inexplicable to the rest of us as the enmity of Alabama and Auburn fans.

Posted by at April 3, 2018 1:39 PM

  

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