Sep 2, 2022 - Politics

Everyday Americans agree more than disagree. So why are we so angry?

Illustration of a pattern of red and blue angry emoji.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Earlier this week, I moderated a panel at the Arizona League of Cities and Towns conference about civility in the public sphere — something that's diminished as I've covered local governments for the past decade.

Why it matters: Local politics are supposed to be immune from the partisan hostility that's pervasive at the national level.

  • In Arizona, city elections are nonpartisan, and there's that old cliché "There's no Democratic or Republican way to fill a pothole."

Yes, but: The increased polarization in national politics in the past decade has seeped into city halls as council members compete for retweets and residents use council meetings to air their national grievances.

State of play: Panelist Keith Allred of the National Institute for Civil Discourse shared academic research showing that Americans are the most polarized we've ever been.

  • We've also never experienced the kind of "multi-decade accelerating polarization" that's been going on since the late '70s.

1 glimmer of hope: Everyday Americans — people who aren't politicians or politically active — actually agree on issues more often than not, Allred said.

  • This category of people represents about 70% to 80% of the population.

Engage the unengaged: Allred and panelist Jack McCain of the McCain Institute noted the importance of engaging non-political residents in local government to help return local governance to civility and good policymaking.

  • These individuals aren't likely to speak at council meetings, so local leaders should reach out to them directly and assemble advisory councils to hear from them, Allred said.

Do better: McCain noted that politicians need to knock off the social media "owning" and angry partisan rhetoric that, while good for campaigning, makes for bad governing.

  • He said that if city leaders want their residents to be respectful and insightful during public meetings, they need to model that behavior.

Parting shot: "The best social media is just being a good person. Maybe it's not as rewarded — you're probably going to have to work twice as hard to fundraise, but at the end of the day… you're going to end up being a more effective person at governing," said McCain, whose father, the late Sen. John McCain, was a frequent target of hateful social media attacks.


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