The Pew Research Center’s recent study puts numbers to something I think we’ve all knew was happening: an increasing political polarization between left and right in the United States.
My family of origin was rather apolitical: there were no impassioned speeches about the necessity of one party over the other. My father leaned mildly in the direction of the Republican party, which he thought might do a better job for small businesses like his. I was aware that others in my community thought the other party was better, but I don’t ever remember fierce arguments or accusations. All political discourse, should it happen, was overlaid was two contrasting feelings: that the leaders, whatever their party, deserved respect as long as they were doing something, and at the same time that the whole enterprise of government was by its nature slightly soiled, and there probably wasn’t a whole lot of difference between one candidate and the other in that regard.
After studying the latest Pew survey, I suspect that their attitude was probably typical of the time: people simply weren’t as passionate about their political ideology as they are now. Here’s Pew’s summary statement:
“The overall share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades from 10% to 21%. And ideological thinking is now much more closely aligned with partisanship than in the past. As a result, ideological overlap between the two parties has diminished: Today, 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican.”
That people are more polarized is, it seems to me, the less surprising finding. More consequential is that everyone is angrier. 27% of Democrats see the Republican party as a threat to the nation’s well-being, and a whopping 36% of Republicans think the same of the Democrats. When pushed to explain, Pew’s Carroll Doherty admits that the “greater levels of partisan antipathy” are “currently more acute on the right than on the left.” It’s even more intense when when the split is thought of in terms of ideology rather than party. “Among consistently conservative Republicans, 66% regard Democratic policies as a threat to the nation’s well-being. Substantially fewer (50%) of consistently liberal Democrats think Republican policies represent a threat to the nation.”
There’s undoubtedly a religious element here: conservative Christianity is a major factor with conservative voters. To what extent is this this mutual hatred reflected in religion, and could it lead us into religious strife as is happening in many of the world’s nations right now?