America’s Tribal Electorate: A political scientist explains the disconnect between us and our hate for the other side
As another bitterly fought, closely contested presidential campaign comes to an end, the American electorate appears hopelessly conflicted. Even as we plead for compromise and bipartisanship in Washington, we increasingly split into two mutually antagonistic camps.
This apparent contradiction has led puzzled academics to different conclusions: Some insist the public is becoming strongly polarized, while others believe the phenomenon is largely limited to the political and media elite. Political scientist Lilliana Mason’s analysis is more subtle, and more disturbing.
Her research suggests that, in terms of our attitudes towards issues, we are no more polarized than we were decades ago. But our emotions, and the behaviors they drive, have largely uncoupled from our actual analysis of the issues.
Essentially, the Stony Brook University scholar argues, our identities have become increasingly intertwined with our political affiliation. As a result, we feel ever more certain that our party is right and the other is wrong—even in cases where their positions aren’t far apart.
Our attitude towards the opposing party has become, basically, tribal: We detest them simply because they’re the other side.
“The American public can hold remarkably moderate and constant issue positions, while nonetheless becoming progressively more biased, active and angry when it comes to politics,” she argues. “Even as we agree on most issues, we are becoming increasingly uncivil in our approach to politics.”