This week, the University of Virginia Center for Politics released a poll surveying Americans’ feelings about their political opponents.
According to the poll, 80 percent of Biden voters and 84 percent of Trump voters believed that elected officials of the opposite party present a “clear and present danger to American democracy”; 78 percent of Biden voters believed that the Republican Party wanted to eliminate the influence of “progressive values” in American life, while 87 percent of Trump voters believed that the Democrats wanted to eliminate “traditional values”; 75 percent of Biden voters and 78 percent of Trump voters believed that the opposing party’s supporters were a “clear and present danger to the American way of life.”
These statistics are, of course, alarming. The popular theory these days is that willingness by both Democrats and Republicans to abandon democratic norms — election result acceptance, checks and balances, due process of law and all the rest — is purely the result of reactionary dislike.
If you fear your neighbor is going to abuse the process, you’d be a fool to stick to the process — and the more we dislike our neighbors, the more we fear that they’ll take advantage of us.
But is this theory correct? Is polarization actually the reason for increased willingness to ditch democratic norms?
According to a new study from political scientists David Broockman of the University of California, Berkeley, Joshua Kalla of Yale and Sean Westwood of Dartmouth, the answer is no. They write, “We find no evidence that an exogenous decrease in affective polarization causes a downstream decrease in opposition to democratic norms.”
In other words, Americans hating each other less does nearly nothing to reduce Americans’ willingness to override democratic norms in order to achieve their goals.
If polarization isn’t driving the undermining of norms, what is? Perhaps the answer is that the reverse is actually occurring: As we’ve abandoned democratic norms, we’ve come to despise our neighbors.
This makes a certain amount of logical and correlative sense. The Founding Fathers had a particular vision of human nature, believing human beings were capable of great things but were also rife with sin and corruption.
Do you think Americans have lost their understanding of human nature?
Yes: 80% (4 Votes)