Comment: Congress more divided than the nation

The Senate's Kavanaugh vote on party lines exposes how elected officials no longer think independently - even though Americans remain more in the center.

Posted: Oct 21, 2018 10:01 PM
Updated: Oct 21, 2018 10:11 PM

Cable news depicts a divided country, with talking heads fighting from the left and right on deeply polarizing political issues. But according to a new study, the United States might not be as split as the media portrays.

More in Common, an initiative dedicated to understanding political polarization, recently released the results of their project called "The Hidden Tribes of America." They found that 67% of the country is what the organization calls the "Exhausted Majority," a group that is displeased by America's polarization and would like for people to find a common ground.

"There's a tremendous anxiety about the division and a sense with the majority of people that their voice isn't being heard," Tim Dixon, co-founder of More in Common, told Brian Stelter in the latest Reliable Sources podcast. "That it's these strident, hateful, often uncompromising us versus them voices" that are receiving attention.

Dixon cited the Brett Kavanaugh hearings as an example of the majority's distress. Their research found that 70% of people said they blame both the left and the right for the conflict over his nomination.

"There is a tendency I think for the whole nature of the political polarization to become so distasteful that there's a large number of people who are just stepping back from it altogether and just sort of don't want to choose a side," Dixon said.

Listen to the whole podcast here:

The "Exhausted Majority" is not only troubled by the divide in Washington politics, he said, but by the arguments among their family and friends about politics.

"They well up with tears about it," Dixon said.

When asked by Stelter how much blame should be assigned to the media, Dixon said it's a significant factor in the country's tensions. More in Common has asked similar questions in different countries, and even though divisions exist elsewhere, respondents are not able to clearly say who they view as their enemy.

"I think the difference is partisan cable television came many years earlier in the United States than any other country, and I think that's really had a significant effect," Dixon said. The problem is that the partisan model seen on cable news makes money, he said.

Social media also plays a role in the problem. People tend to follow and be followed by others with the same opinions as them, and they're likely to receive backlash if they say something contrary to the typical beliefs of their side, Dixon said.

One positive finding More in Common had was that people made more sense about their positions when they were given the opportunity to talk "at length about their values and why they believe what they believe," he said.

Anxiety over the country's divide is not the only thing Americans have in common. The study also found that most respondents feel both proud and grateful to be an American.

"And maybe that's the blueprint for a future candidate," Dixon said. "It's to speak to the values that the country shares and to say we're more than just a demographic category. We're more than just a political partisan."

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