June 14, 2019

(Hill Street Studios / Getty Images)  

*This piece was updated on June 14th to include listener feedback.

Politics in the United States has long been dominated by two main groups – the Republicans and the Democrats – but, in recent decades, we’ve seen increasing divisiveness and conflict. Voters have become less concerned with what government does, and more interested in politicians they believe represent who they are.

Lilliana Mason, assistant professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, and Marc Hetherington, professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina, discuss what happens when politics gets personal. And they consider the consequences for our democracy.

Three Takeaways:

  • American voters are increasingly divided into two partisan teams shaped by views about race, religion, culture, gender equality and more. 
  • Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was “rooted in identity and intergroup competition” and his victory was the, “culmination of a process by which the American electorate has become deeply socially divided along partisan lines,” according to Mason.
  • Our political preferences are influenced by what Hetherington describes as our “worldview” - the extent to which we see the world as a dangerous or safe place. He warns that “anti-other attitudes” make voters “ripe for manipulation by political elites,” who may seek to exploit their biases.

More Reading:

LISTENER FEEDBACK: 

Many of you related to our conversation about political polarization and shared your personal stories with us. 

Jennifer Fay of Westborough, Massachusetts told us that she felt a little ashamed to admit that she does not “want to spend any time with any Republicans.” She explained that there have been tensions in her family ever since her partner’s mother died and her partner’s father - a longtime Democrat - started to date and then married a Republican. 

“The sky didn’t fall, but it means this huge part of what we all most liked to converse about is mainly exempted from all discussions, which feels like we’re being imposters,” she wrote. 

Jeff, a PhD student in public policy from Washington, D.C. shared his experience with political partisanship in dating apps. “The most striking thing has been how many people essentially require you to conform to their political beliefs,” he said. “Quite often profiles will say something to the effect of "Republicans swipe left,” and that’s on the friendly side,” if you don’t agree with them politically, he explained.

Clark Chapman of Boulder, Colorado said he felt our show, “tended to downplay the real differences between the parties that have gradually developed over the decades.” In the past, “while Democrats averaged more liberal, the party included many conservative southerners, including some segregationists.  And there were Republican liberals and moderates, especially in the northeast, like Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts,” he wrote. “Now, there are no Republican liberals and even the very few "moderates" (like Senator [Susan] Collins of Maine) are really conservatives.”

Over Twitter, Clarence Coggins from Jersey City, New Jersey, said that he believes Democrats hate Republicans but that, “Republicans are more focused on day to day issues and protecting the American Identity.”

While Ryan Theodosia Zentmyer from California, who is queer and non-binary transgender, sent us the following comment: “I literally feel like there's no place for people like me to exist among conservatives. I don't necessarily hate all conservatives or Republicans by default. For me, the opposite of love isn't hate, it's fear. I can't openly be myself because I'm afraid.”

You can listen to some of the comments we received above and remember you can always share your thoughts with us too. Drop us a line at innovationhub@wgbh.org, tweet us: @IHubRadio or give us a call at 617-684-5839. 

politics, Culture, Marc Hetherington, Lilliana Mason

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