Oct 17, 2018

The great white fight

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Reproduced from "HiddenTribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape"; Chart: Axios Visuals

America is an increasingly diverse nation but a loud, hyper-active group of well-to-do whites on the left and right are tearing it apart from the edges, according to an astonishing new study of our electorate.

The big picture: 14% of America, roughly half left and half right, consistently shouts, posts and votes, while 67% of us are exhausted.

  • You have about 8% of Americans in the hard-left camp — almost all white (80%), all well-educated, all voting, all giving money and time to campaigns, all active on social media. Their combined voices dominate Democratic politics. 
  • You have about 6% in the hard-right camp — almost all white (88%), all well-educated, all voting, all giving money and time to campaigns, all active on social media. Their combined voices dominate Republican politics.
  • Oh, and these two groups basically hate everything about each other. 

This eye-opening breakdown comes from "Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape," by the international nonprofit group More in Common.

  • The report, one of the largest-ever studies of U.S. polarization, is based on an 8,000-person poll by YouGov, with about a 1% margin of error.
  • I learned about the study from a column by the N.Y. Times' David Brooks ("The Rich White Civil War: A smarter look at America’s divide"), who said these two extreme wings of U.S. politics have become "cultish."

The study finds that America's two extreme wings comprise just 14% of the population, "yet it often feels as if our national conversation has become a shouting match between these two groups."

  • The left wing's "Progressive Activists" are "deeply concerned with ... equity, fairness. ... They tend to be more secular, cosmopolitan, and highly engaged with social media." In raising children, they value independence, creativity and curiosity.
  • The right wing's "Devoted Conservatives" feel that "America is embattled, and they perceive themselves as the last defenders of traditional values." In raising children, they emphasize respect, obedience and manners. (A larger, less activist cohort, "Traditional Conservatives" is — like both extremes — racially homogenous: 79% white.)

I interviewed one of the study's co-authors, Stephen Hawkins, research director of More in Common USA, who told me the two wings are "talking to each other too little, with too much suspicion and too little giving credit."

  • "They have inverse world views, but what they have in common is that they're very consistent," Hawkins said. "You could even maybe use the word 'dogmatic,' or 'ideologically rigid.'"

Be smart ... Good news for third-party dreamers: Tw0-thirds of Americans (the study's "Exhausted Majority") have had it with this white fight — and yearn for something new.

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