How many of your close friends hold political views that are diametrically opposed to your own?
In other words, if you are liberal, how many of your close friends are very conservative? If you are conservative, how many of your close friends are extremely liberal?
And if you are moderate or independent, how many of your close friends hold immoderate positions on either side of the political spectrum? For most people today, the answer is, “Not many.”
To figure out why, we need to ask a few more questions. Would you worry if your child or sibling held political positions diametrically opposed to your own? Would it bother you if they married someone with opposing political views? Would you be scared or annoyed if you had to move into a community where most people vote for different candidates than you do?
Do you go out of your way to listen to people who disagree with you about politics? Do you read, watch, or listen carefully to news that comes from sources that support political positions hostile to your own? Do you despise the party that competes with yours?
“Do you think that it is a threat to the well-being of your country and of people whom you care about? Do you understand why its supporters prefer it and its candidates?
Do you recognise any good reasons for their positions? Can you fairly explain why they take the stands that they take on crucial issues? How sure are you that you are right about the political issues that divide you from them?
In many countries around the world, these questions receive different answers today than they received only a decade or two ago.
Today many people have few close friends with radically different political views, live in communities with vast majorities that support the same political party, read or listen to news sources that agree with them, build social media networks with only political allies, and rarely come across people who express views hostile to their own.
When they do encounter such views, they almost never talk at length or try hard to understand why those people disagree so much with them.
When they talk with opponents, they do not try to give reasons but instead resort to emotional appeals, verbal abuse, jokes at their expense, and threats of ostracism or worse.
Or they quickly change the subject to avoid uncomfortable disagreements. None of these reactions builds bridges or solves problems.
Skeptics might wonder, however, whether we really are as polarized and isolated as I have been suggesting. After all, many people hold moderate or mixed political views, even if they do not usually express them loudly or go into politics. Most of us do know some people with opposing political views, even if we usually avoid talking with them about politics.
Opposing political parties do hold lengthy debates in most democracies, even if those debaters often sidestep the real issues. Parties write platforms, even if they rarely follow them. Politicians do support their positions in various news media, even if only by reasserting them.
Such exchanges do often seem to give reasons for each side. And both sides do tend to think that they understand their opponents perfectly well. Sometimes political opponents even like each other. So maybe the “culture wars” are exaggerated.
In order to determine the depth and breadth of polarisation, this chapter will consider some empirical research on polarisation. A boatload has been written on this topic, so we can only survey a small sample, but we can learn a lot from this little bit, starting with the United States and then turning to other countries.”
Excerpt From: Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. “Think Again: How to Reason and Argue.”