Democrats and Republicans are ideologically worlds apart—or so they think. According to new research, the two political party supporters exaggerate how much members of the other party dehumanize, dislike and disagree with them. So finds a new study from positive social change org Beyond Conflict, in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania.
“Democrats and Republicans both think that the divide between them is more than twice what it actually is,” said UPenn researcher Emile Bruneau, in a news release. “While it is troubling that we’re all caught in this mutual illusion, we have the capacity to overcome these false perceptions as Americans.”
The report, America’s Divided Mind, features the results of three national surveys over two years to assess the state of political polarization in America. “These findings reveal an opportunity to address a range of false beliefs that Americans hold about each other that lead to fear, distrust, and hostility. We outline a series of actions that individuals and leaders can take to bridge this political divide,” said Tim Phillips, CEO of Beyond Conflict, in the release.
The research highlights four actions to mitigate toxic polarization:
- engage opinion leaders to stop the spread of polarizing rhetoric
- create awareness campaigns about partisan misperceptions through voter’s guides and outreach to faith and cultural communities
- facilitate effective dialogue across the political spectrum, and
- measure polarization over time
“Toxic polarization is a continuous threat to American democracy,” said Beyond Conflict postdoctoral fellow at UPenn and lead author Samantha Moore-Berg, in the release, “but is that due to how people actually feel about each other? Or is it due to how we think other people feel about us? We do disagree with each other, but not nearly as much as we think we do.”
Similar to how recent polls show that the majority of Americans agree on the need to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, Democrats and Republicans are also not as far apart as they think on two of the most divisive policy issues facing the nation, immigration and gun control.
This report is part of Beyond Conflict’s efforts to create a nationwide polarization instrument to measure polarization over time, create programs tailored to the psychology of specific regions, and communicate to the public about the risks and consequences of toxic polarization.