Color Me Surprised: America is More Polarized than it was 20 years ago

Pew ran a piece last week on the Political Polarization of the American public.

Using data collected on a national survey of 10,013 adults nationwide from January 23-March 16, 2014, the Pew Research Center found that Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines than at any other point in the last two decades.  Not surprisingly, these divisions are greatest among those who are most engaged and active in the political process.


I guess the most intriguing thing about the article was how it wasn’t surprising.  When the line between facts and opinions is porous as we are now seeing, I guess it isn’t surprising that people become more consistent in their belief structures and ideologies.  This wouldn’t be a problem, except that now things like “news” and “fact” exist as positions on a spectrum of red to blue.

Take for example, the controversy that rose from comments by the Dixie chicks front woman Natalie Maines during a performance in London about George Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003.  Her remark: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”  The kerfuffle was swift, and Maines became subject of death threats.  Fast forward to earlier this year when southern rocker Ted Nugent called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” who should be convicted of treason.  Where is the outrage?  Where are the calls to boycott Nugent?

I’d be interested to know to what extent the rise of cable news and alternative “news” sources available to consumers influenced this polarization.  Twenty or thirty years ago, the news was the news.  Viewers couldn’t choose the flavor of their news like we choose cool ranch or nacho cheese doritos.  Thoughts?


Author: Jessica Bishop-Royse

Jessica Bishop-Royse is the SSRC’s Senior Research Methodologist. Her areas of interest include: health disparities, demography, crime, methods, and statistics. She often finds herself navigating the fields of sociology, demography, epidemiology, medicine, public health, and policy. She was broadly trained in data collection, Stata, quantitative research methodology, as well as statistics. She has experience with multi-level analyses, survival analyses, and multivariate regression. Outside of the work context, Jessi is interested in writing, reading, travel, photography, and sport.

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