Friday, February 26, 2016

A Dividing America: Evidence #1

The United States is on the cusp of a political showdown and its outcome will determine how the future America will be defined: its values, its social norms, and its future place in the world and history. As with many such confrontations, it will be contested not just in the airwaves and halls of legislature, but in the streets. Chances are that we will face a future of social unrest and violence. It has happened in the past, it may likely happen in the future.

There is a growing division, a tear, in the fabric of American society. Many American feel it and the data supports it. And I believe history teaches us that this growing rift will not be settled by gentle means, but the opposite. To demonstrate this growing polarity I want to examine five points of evidence.

The Pew Research Center is famous for its polls and demographic studies. Recently the organization co-wrote a book with Paul Taylor, The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown. I have not yet purchased this book as it has just recently been released, but the Pew Research website has kindly published many graphs and charts from the book on its website. I will use these as a resource to give the evidence that I believe supports my supposition that the US is headed toward a dark and tumultuous future.

My first piece of evidence is that Americans are becoming increasingly politically divided, perhaps approaching the polarization that proceeded the American Civil War when sectionalism determined a person's political identity.

This can be demonstrated by the following chart.

This chart illustrates the rising disparity between a president's approval rating between members of his own party and those of the opposing party. For example, 81% of Democrats approve of President Obama while only 14% of Republicans do, creating a spread of 67 points. Democrats do not like Republican presidents, and vice versa.

Democrats and Republicans are also becoming increasingly intolerant of the others' political views. In fact, they no longer seem to be able to tolerate the other. As Pew Research observes:

These days Democrats and Republicans no longer stop at disagreeing with each others' ideas. Many in each party now deny the others' facts, disapprove of each others' lifestyles, avoid each others' neighborhoods, impugn each others' motives, doubt each others' patriotism, can't stomach each others' news sources, and bring different value systems to such core social institutions as religion, marriage, and parenthood. It's as if they belong not to rival parties but alien tribes (Emphasis added)

 We're becoming a nation of rival "alien tribes!" Meaning, that while we still have much in common (probably more than not), we increasingly separate ourselves from association with the other because of our political differences. 

So great is this increasing alienation that these political "tribes" are even physically separating themselves from the other. As reported by NPR, Project Implicit --- a survey of over 1 million people conducted by researches from several universities --- discovered that both political liberals and conservatives "tended to move into more like-minded communities." And that Americans are moving into communities and neighborhoods "that share their worldviews and can become uncomfortable when they don't fit in." As one German political scientist in the same article noted, "America has split into closed and radically separated enclaves that follow their own construction of reality."

This intentional segregation by party affiliation or political persuasion helps to explain why many states have become dominated politically by one party, where both the governor and the legislature are controlled by the same party, often over the course of multiple election cycles. Even as recently as 2011 over 29 states had a single party dominate the five top offices in the state government.

Where will of this lead? Stay tuned. We still have four other points of evidence to examine.