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The more political media you consume, the more warped your perspective of the other side becomes

The more political media you consume, the more warped your perspective of the other side becomes The more political media you consume, the more warped your perspective of the other side becomes
Source: The Brave Union via Behance
Why We're Polarized
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Why We're Polarized
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To be interested in politics is, for most people, to choose a side. How could it be otherwise? The differences between the parties and their coalitions are profound. They are ideological, geographic, demographic, temperamental. Whether your side wins or loses is a literal matter of life and death — perhaps not for you, but, given the stakes for health insurance and foreign policy, certainly for someone.

In today’s media sphere, where the explosion of choices has made it possible to get the political media you really want, it’s expressed itself in polarized media that attaches to political identity, conflict, and celebrity. That is to say, it expresses itself in journalism and commentary that is more directly about the question of why your side should win and the other side should lose.

I’ve produced a lot of this kind of journalism. I cover politics because I think policy is important, which is to say, because I think who wins and who loses policy fights is important. And, obviously, my views on those questions are rational, judicious, disinterested, and objectively correct. The problem is lots of other people are doing that kind of work, too, and some of them come to different conclusions than I do.

But rather than argue over who’s right, I want to step back and look at how a political media system increasingly organized around that axis deepens political identity, hardens polarization, and raises the political stakes.

The simplest measure for assessing political journalism is whether it’s giving those who follow it a more accurate understanding of American politics. As one disturbing window into this question, consider a fascinating study published by Douglas Ahler and Gaurav Sood in 2018.

In it, Ahler and Sood conducted a survey asking people “to estimate the percentage of Democrats who are black, atheist or agnostic, union members, and gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and the percentage of Republicans who are evangelical, 65 or older, Southern, and earn over $250,000 per year.” They were asking, in other words, how much people thought the composition of the parties fit the caricatures of the parties.

Misperceptions were particularly high when people were asked to describe the other party. Democrats believed 44 percent of Republicans earned more than $250,000 a year; it’s actually 2 percent. Republicans believed that 38 percent of Democrats were gay, lesbian, or bisexual; the correct answer is about 6 percent. Democrats believed that more than four in 10 Republicans are seniors; in truth, seniors make up about 20 percent of the GOP. Republicans believed that 46 percent of Democrats are black and 44 percent belong to a union; in reality, about 24 percent of Democrats are black and less than 11 percent belong to a union.

But what was telling about these results is that the more interested in politics people were, the more political media they consumed, the more mistaken they were about the other party (the one exception was the income category: high levels of political knowledge led to more accurate answers about the percentage of Republicans earning more than $250,000). This is a damning result: the more political media you consume, the more warped your perspective of the other side becomes.

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