Tensions in American politics reached a climax two years ago when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. About 150 police officers suffered several casualties in a failed riot on January 6, 2021.
However, in the forefront of the November 2022 midterm elections, a majority of Republicans have put forward false claims put forward by the Capitol mob that President Joe Biden won in 2020 due to voter fraud. I said I still believe. The January 6 riots are an extreme example of what happens when a country is caught in a cycle of polarization and mistrust. But that doesn’t mean there is no hope of bridging the gap.
We are political scientists who specialize in political polarization. Our recent research suggests that while there is no quick fix to the problem of polarization and hostility, there are ways to lower the temperature of the country’s politics.
Talking lowers body temperature
In October 2020, about 80% of registered voters (Democrats and Republicans alike) said their differences with the other side were more about core American values than just differences of opinion. rice field. A 2022 poll found that a majority of both registered Republicans and Democrats called the other side immoral and dishonest.
Unsurprisingly, very few voters and most are reluctant to talk to the person on the other side of the aisle, thinking they are wasting their time. But the truth of the matter is quite different.
We conducted an academic study throughout 2019 to bring together people who said they identified as either Republicans or Democrats for interparty conversations. It was intended to examine the impact of the discussion of
In total, we invited over 500 people from the greater Philadelphia area to community centers, libraries, schools, and other locations. The results of this experiment, published in November 2021 in a short book titled “We Need to Talk,” suggest that such conversations provide an avenue for minimizing hostility.
Our study found that direct conversations with people on opposite ends of the political spectrum reduced partisan animosity by almost 20%.
Participants first read a short article suggesting that there is a surprising amount of consensus and commonality between Republicans and Democrats. All participants were then asked to take turns expressing their agreement or disagreement with the text, after which they were asked to discuss American politics more broadly.
Each group talked for about 15 minutes. We did not record or monitor our conversations in order to make people feel comfortable expressing themselves.
These conversations have several different effects. First, it helps people understand that parties may share common positions. Conversations reveal that people can agree on some issues.
Second, conversations also help us better understand other people’s perspectives, and help us understand that others may have valid reasons for their beliefs. Importantly, this depolarizing effect did not disappear the moment participants left the group discussion. When we interviewed people a week later, we found that talking about it had a lasting effect on participants.
One of our favorite moments while doing this research was after our first session at the Bucks County, Pennsylvania Public Library. Some people stayed after the study to continue the conversation and needed the room for the next group that had booked that room so the librarian had to come in and ask us to leave. I didn’t.
When people think of people from other political parties, people have a pretty skewed view of who they are. but in reality it is only 6%. Since people mainly interact with people who are similar to themselves, the way they view others is greatly influenced by the mass media. Many media sources (especially social media sites) tend to amplify the loudest and most extreme voices on both sides, drowning out most of the people in the middle.
But when we learn that not all members of their party are extremists, as we found in our research, we realize that we may have sketched them too broadly. In practice, this kind of engagement can have a variety of effects, including reducing political violence like what happened on January 6th.
So how can Americans be encouraged to bridge political divisions and find common ground? For example, we both are members of the academic council of the non-partisan organization Braver Angels. The Braver Angels are an independent group that brings Americans together to resolve political divisions on various issues.
Many other non-profit organizations like this exist across the country, and many foundations and other organizations support their important work.
it is in the hands of the people themselves
Closing these gaps is ultimately up to all Americans. Most people avoid face-to-face political discussions beyond disagreements for fear of conflict or discomfort.
But if people are willing to participate in conversations with an open mind and to listen without trying to persuade, they will probably learn something. Come to think of it, this is not an opportunity that occurs every day. But if so, it provides an important opportunity to learn more about them from the other person and see how you have things in common. I have.
Let me be clear: conversation is not a panacea for political divisions and animosity. The goal is not unanimity, but better understanding of each other. There’s no quick fix to the country’s political divisions, but a good-faith discussion might help Americans cool the political climate at least a little.