Don’t let your babies grow up to marry Republicans

Nice piece from Tom Edsall examining the political science research on how Democrats and Republicans are growing ever farther apart.  This infographic about how you would feel about a child marrying someone of the other political party really captures it:



And a long excerpt that hits the key points:

In an email exchange, Iyengar speculated on a number of reasons for the increase in polarization:

Residential neighborhoods are politically homogeneous as are social media networks. I suspect this is one of the principal reasons for the significantly increased rate of same-party marriages. In 1965, a national survey of married couples showed around sixty-five percent agreement among couples. By 2010, the agreement rate was near 90 percent.

The result, according to Iyengar, is that “since inter-personal contact across the party divide is infrequent, it is easier for people to buy into the caricatures and stereotypes of the out party and its supporters.”

Iyengar’s findings are backed up by a 2014 Pew Research Center study that revealed that “the level of antipathy that members of each party feel toward the opposing party has surged over the past two decades.” Fully 36 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats believe the opposition party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being,” Pew found…

More recently, a group of four scholars working with Jonathan Haidt, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, and Thomas Talhelm, a doctoral candidate in social psychology at the University of Virginia, have developed a new line of inquiry into the causes and nature of polarization. Their paper, “Liberals Think More Analytically Than Conservatives,” was published online in December. It argues that

partisans on both sides believe different facts, use different economic theories, and hold differing views of history. But might the differences run even deeper? Do liberals and conservatives process the same set of facts with different cultural thought styles?

The answer, according to Talhelm, Haidt and their colleagues: “liberals and conservatives in the same country think as if they were from different cultures.”

These researchers argue that liberals share a propensity for analytic thinking and have

a stronger preference for deep thought and a rejection of simple solutions. Liberals are more tolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty, and they have less of a need for order, structure and closure.

Analytic thinking, in this view, “emphasizes slicing up the world and analyzing objects individually, divorced from context — much like scientific analysis requires thinkers to separate complex phenomena into separate parts.” Talhelm elaborated in a phone conversation: The analytic thinking typical of liberals is “more conscious, more focused on the rules of logic.”

Conversely, these researchers define holistic thinking – which they consider more typical of conservatives — as “seeing scenes as a whole and seeing people as a product of situations.” Talhelm described this style of thought as “more automatic, caught up in emotions, and in some ways less adherent to the rules of logic.”

As for any of this ending anytime soon.  Don’t count on it:

This is not an easy problem for politicians to solve. Republican andDemocratic leaders are struggling to moderate their parties’ most extreme ideological positioning. But if polarization reflects primal aspects of the human condition, particularly when we are under stress, it isn’t going anywhere. However much they might want to pitch themselves toward the center, politicians will feel the need to tap into the energy, not to mention the primary votes, that ideological purity provides. It is this contradiction between purity and pragmatism that will shape the political landscape for the foreseeable future.



About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

6 Responses to Don’t let your babies grow up to marry Republicans

  1. John F. says:

    I recognize there’s a lot going on here is it safe to say that non-partisan redistricting efforts would go a long way to moderating the extremes in both parties?

    • Steve Greene says:

      I feel like I read something on this at Monkey Cage, but I’m not sure. My general sense is that while non-partisan redistricting is good for so many reasons, it may not due all that much to reduce polarization.

  2. Mike says:

    I think it’s being made worse by internet search engines that return results based on our personal beliefs. Along with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, who I think has done more damage to the USA then just about anyone else in history. I wonder how many of those talking heads actually believe half the nonsense they spout, and are there just to collect a fat paycheck as they sell one Benghazi story after every anti Obamacare story to the masses?

    I have Firefox setup that uses data protection and personal information hiding to get less biased results for some searches. I really started to notice the problem when my own articles started popping up in the first page. Nobody knows who I am, I should rank in the millionth spot at best. Instead, I was getting placed in tenth to fifteenth place.

  3. Alex says:

    As to the infographic at the top, I’d posit that at least some of the movement from 1960 to 2008 might come from the fact that the average parent in 1960 was more likely to consider a woman’s / wife’s political leanings to be less important than the husband’s. In other words, there’s less reason to be upset because the woman’s views were an afterthought, and so marrying someone from the opposite party would not say as much about the daughter’s or son’s party. Whereas in more recent times, marrying someone from the opposite party would mean (to the parent) that their daughter or son was much more likely to also be of that party (and thus opposite to her or his parents). But perhaps I’m too cynical?

  4. rgbact says:

    “Their paper, “Liberals Think More Analytically Than Conservatives,”

    Ah yes, more unbiased “research” from our friends in academia. Why oh why would conservatives be looking to shut down this science goodness?.

    • John F. says:

      Why don’t you give the research a read before you draw a conclusion? It just be the case that you’re failing to understand what they mean by “analytical” and are drawing value conclusions based upon a misunderstanding of how they are applying the term which they define as understanding objects or conditions outside of their contexts such as one might do as a scientist. Keep in mind that this was private research conducted by a private institution so how one would shut down this “science goodness” I’m not quite sure. Take a look see:

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