America’s partisan fireworks will be hard for anyone to put out
Presidential approval gap expands
“To the extent we see differences between 2016 and 2020 we are talking about very marginal ones,” says Tufts University political scientist Brian Schaffner, a co-director of the Cooperative Election Study.
“I don’t think we are going to see an election anymore where a president wins with 52 or 53% of the vote and then has a 62% approval rating,” says Republican pollster Glen Bolger.
While some analysts have asserted that political polarization is driven primarily by leaders like Trump who encourage it, Abramowitz argues that today it is grounded in a much more intractable dynamic: As the electorate has sorted between the parties on lines of race, education, generation, religion and geography, the rank and file of each coalition now holds more ideologically consistent views on the core questions facing America — and those views are more consistently hostile to the perspective on the other side.
In an upcoming paper he shared with CNN, Abramowitz notes that long-term survey data shows that compared with the 1970s, voters in each party now hold much more negative views of the other party and its presidential nominee. That hostility, he argues, is rooted in these fundamentally clashing worldviews.
Moves to block Biden policies
This year’s sharp turn to the right in red states has provided immediate evidence to support that prediction. Red states have erupted in what looks like a spasm of resistance to the left-leaning tilt in national policy that Democrats are executing through their unified control of Washington.
“This is definitely red states saying we want the kind of restrictive policies that Biden is dismantling,” says Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and former commissioner of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service for President Bill Clinton.
Emergence of 2-tier systems
The researchers, Samore said, found that rejection of those safety precautions was linked most closely with distrust of scientists, distrust of the mainstream media (and lack of exposure to it) and attitudes of economic conservatism (which may have translated into greater priority on reopening the economy than combating the virus). All of those, of course, are attitudes now common in the modern Republican coalition.
“What we think is going on here is a clash between people’s inclinations … and their political beliefs about trusting science or exposure to different media sources,” says Samore.
Fessler says these tendencies are reinforced by the social and political sorting that has diminished Americans’ exposure to neighbors of contrasting political views.
“You might be a liberal 20-something, and you might feel not particularly threatened, but if everyone around is saying, ‘I got vaxxed,’ you can get tipping point effects” that encourage you to do so as well, he says; the opposite, he adds, works in reducing appetite for the vaccine among conservatives.
Fessler says these diverging attitudes on the value of vaccines, despite all the evidence of their effectiveness and safety, encapsulates a much larger problem: the development of information “niches” that allow falsehoods to take root for a large audience. The key “challenge facing democracies in the 21st century,” he argues, is that “while the internet promised the democratization of knowledge — the idea anyone can learn anything, and the connection of people regardless of geography and personal characteristics — instead the perverse result has been that it’s possible to occupy one’s own little niche in the information environment.”
Because “there are lots of other people occupying that” same space, he adds, no matter how implausible the ideas being presented in those circles, “our evolved psychology tells us this must be reality because everyone I am interacting with thinks the way that I do.”
Divergent information flows are not the only reason that red and blue America are pulling apart; the preference for contrasting information sources, in fact, may be more symptom than cause of the underlying demographic, generational and geographic separation of the parties. Taken together, all of these factors produced an Independence Day weekend when foundational questions of American unity and commitment to democracy seemed more fraught than at any time since the Civil War.