Science at the Edge: Reducing Polarization
This is the third installment of our Science at the Edge series, where we explore the benefits, tradeoffs, and risks associated with innovative solutions while unpacking questions about ethics, policy, or public perceptions.
What does political polarization mean in 2023? As we approach another national election cycle, are we really more divided than ever, or is the gap more about perceptions than fact? In a roundtable conversation led by Institute Director Kristan Uhlenbrock, we discuss the roots of our current divisiveness and new ideas for reducing polarization, from the role of media to interventions that work.
KRISTAN UHLENBROCK: In this series, we've been exploring these new ideas and innovations happening in science and technology through the lens of how it is influencing society. We're going to be discussing ideas for reducing polarization.
We are approaching a national election cycle coming up. At the Institute we are interested in exploring the idea of: what does polarization mean in 2023 as we head into this election cycle. Are we truly more divided as a society? Where are we divided when we talk about division and politics? Where do we not get it right as a society? And how do our perceptions about division differ from reality?
We have an amazing lineup of guests who are going to be very deliberate and transparent in discussing some of the roots of our divisiveness, as well as some effective ways that we can bridge divides or intervention measures because a lot of this comes back to how we want to strengthen our democracy.
We have Laura Frank. Laura is the Executive Director for the Colorado News and a dear partner of ours at the Institute. Laura has been a longtime investigative reporter and journalist who has been a pioneer of collaborative journalism in Colorado. She is the founder of an organization called the Eye News, which was a nonprofit investigative news organization that merged with Rocky Mountain Public Media. And now she runs this big news collaborative that works with the Colorado Media Project and many others.
We have Stephen Hawkins, a director of research for More in Common, which is an international organization where he oversees the studies of the psychology of political division throughout nine countries. He's been with the organization since its inception and founding in 2016. I first came to learn more about the organization through a project that he led called Hidden Tribes.
Our final guest to introduce is Jan Vogel. Jan is a researcher at the Polarization and Social Change Lab at Stanford University, where he's finishing his PhD in sociology. His research focuses on developing psychological strategies for social change towards less divisive and more equal societies. He has a number of focus areas, including American political polarization and democracy. I came to learn of Jan's work through him being the lead organizer for an effort called Strengthening Democracy Challenge.
Let’s do some stage-setting: each of you please describe the program or organization in which you do your work.
LAURA FRANK: CoLab, the Colorado News Collaborative, is a relatively new nonprofit. The intent of CoLab is to help strengthen journalism and thus strengthen democracy in communities throughout Colorado. We work with more than 180 news organizations of all types throughout the state. If you can think of the news organization, it probably has been involved in CoLab at some level.
We do three things that we shorthand as reporting, reach, and revenue. We know that having really high-quality in-depth reporting helps democracy on many levels. If you lose reporting, which we've seen multiple times in Colorado and across the country, then we know fewer people run for office, fewer people vote, and polarization increases. CoLab is trying to strengthen journalism organizations, not only by helping them do collaborative, large, in-depth work, but we're also helping them connect with the community and be that conduit or connector in community, and that convener of community. We're helping them grow their businesses to be more sustainable so they can do more community engagement and in-depth reporting.
CoLab started as a group of community and journalism leaders coming together. It's grown to 180 news organizations and hundreds of members of the public with more than 1000 people supporting us financially as a nonprofit. We know that we've hit upon something that people wanted and that it seems to be having positive impacts.
STEPHEN HAWKINS: More in Common was born in tragedy. In 2016, there was a British Member of Parliament named Jo Cox. She was a big supporter of helping, refugees from Syria and from the Middle East settle in the United Kingdom. One of her constituents attacked her when she was out with staffers and she was killed for her support of refugees. The name more in common comes from Jo’s first speech in parliament where she talked about the commonality that her constituents had despite being a very diverse constituency.
Our mission since 2016 has been to help explain what the roots of division are in societies that have become more polarized. Today we are active in the UK, France, Germany, Poland, and the United States. We're about 50 staff, we've released over 100 reports, and we get about 400 media mentions or have articles written about our work per year across those countries. We work with political parties, governments, nonprofits, philanthropic groups, and with the business sector.
The main thing that we're trying to do is explain the psychology of the different groups in society and how we're divided. Oftentimes in societies, divisions fall along ethnic or regional lines, as they did in the United States for so many decades. What we’re seeing in the West today is that many of the divisions that we see follow along cultural lines or represent differences in values and ideology. Those things are difficult to categorize. They don't map cleanly onto race or generation or region, and so you need to create new categories that capture where people fall within this landscape of division.
Primarily we create our own categories to describe the map of division. See our Hidden Tribes work for more on that. We've released reports like that in each of the countries that we work in. We use our academic experts, of which we have eight people with PhDs on our team currently, to help inform and shape our research so that we can make our understanding of the psychology of division relevant to debates that come up. Whether it's about climate change, COVID, economic policy, critical race theory - any of the major topics of our time - we work to better understand what the true lines of division in society are, how big the gaps are between us and our perspectives, and crucially, what can we do to overcome them.
We ask, where is there common ground? What language can we use to bring people together? How can organizations with large reach (such as governments or media channels) help work in a way that brings people together rather than exacerbating divisions?
JAN VOGEL: I am a researcher and one thing that is fascinating from my perspective is that when we do our research, we believe in accumulating knowledge over time. However, some of the problems that we study can feel so urgent that there is a strong desire to accelerate that progress. Throughout my PhD, I have felt that a lot of people were working on the same problem, but all were doing it a little bit isolated from each other.
So we did the Strengthening Democracy Challenge. This was a collaboration that formed across different scientific disciplines, as well as trying to bring people from outside of academia, and then used rigorous scientific methods in order to isolate causal factors that can result in reductions in some of the divisions. Collaborators included researchers from across the world, from political science, sociology, psychology, communication scholars, and economists, as well as practitioners who work in bridging organizations. We brought the best ideas together and then tested them as rigorously as possible to try to identify what are the strongest psychological mechanisms that can cause change in affective polarization as well as democratic attitudes.
KRISTAN: Thank you. Jan, let me come right back to you because you just used this word that I want to level set with our audience, which is affective polarization. So would you do a little bit of defining that for us?
JAN: People often use the term polarization or political polarization, and it's not super clear what they really mean, because it can have different meanings.
One is that polarization, in general, means that there are two poles that are far away from each other. And there's also an implicit meaning of a time trend that groups are moving towards these poles, so they're moving further away from each other. And that can refer to disagreements on political issues, such as gun rights, abortion, and immigration. You could imagine that Republicans and Democrats, for example, may drift further apart on these issues with both becoming more extreme. However, that's not really the case. Within the American public, there's not strong support for consistent, what we call, attitudinal polarization in the mass public.
In contrast, there is more evidence for what we call affective polarization, which describes how much supporters of the different sides dislike each other. And there we see that Democrats and Republicans felt pretty neutral towards each other 30 or 40 years ago. But since then, that dislike has really grown. And fascinatingly, while over time we haven't really become much more extreme when it comes to political attitudes, but still we have started to really dislike the other side.
STEPHEN: I think that captures it really well. And to quantify it, we use these thermometer scales 0 to 100, where 100 means “I love you, you're my partner,” and zero means, “You're the worst dictator ever. You're my enemy.”
To Jan’s point about neutrality, in the 1980s during the Reagan era, Republicans and Democrats rated each other at about 45, which is subtly below 50, which would be completely neutral. In my own opinion, that's a pretty good place for democracy to be. People say, “Well, I don't actively dislike you, but I do disagree with you. And so there's just a little bit there that makes me feel less than neutral towards you.” But now we're down to rating the other side in the 20s. That's the baseline that we're now working with when Republicans and Democrats think about each other.
A lot of our research has found that people work with caricatures when it comes to Republicans and Democrats, and there's academic literature in the field of political science that talks about false polarization, another relevant term that refers to disagreeing with a group of people when in reality you're projecting an opinion or a quality onto that group that they don't possess to the same degree that you think they do. So you're exaggerating or caricaturing them.
We have some almost laughable examples of this: if you ask Republicans what percent of Democrats are LGBTQ, they'll guess 45%; if you ask Democrats what percent of Republicans are millionaires, they'll guess 20 or 30 percent, but in reality, those are very small percentages of those groups.
And then if you ask people to make estimates about the degree of difference on specific issues, often Republicans and Democrats will vastly overestimate the degree of ideological difference that they have with the other side. We have this degree to which this is a real phenomenon versus an imagined or pretend phenomenon. It is both at the same time because the emotional frustration, angst, and dislike is very real and quantified, while the differences between the parties are actually not as massive as people tend to imagine.
LAURA: I admitted earlier that I am a journalist who loves numbers, so I'm really fascinated by the breakdown of this.
You might be familiar with Yale’s Six Americas Quiz looking at ideologically positioned people on the topic of global warming. There’s one group that they call dismissives, which I think is when we worry about polarization, we're really worried about those people who just cannot tolerate thinking about what the other side does or believes. But in this research, they found that the majority of people, about 70 percent of Americans, are in this middle and that they generally are concerned. They may not be ready to buy an electric car or whatever the action may be, but they are concerned about science-based issues and they're increasingly polarization fatigued. I can imagine that many of us today can relate to that polarization fatigue where we are just tired of the vitriol that is going back and forth.
A lot of folks are asking how we can speak to 70 percent of the middle. And how do we make sure they get the kind of information that is not polarizing? We know some information, the way it is presented, and the kind of information it is can be polarizing. How do we make sure we avoid that and capitalize on the majority of Americans who care about facts and don't necessarily see each other as the enemy before we keep sliding down the slippery slope that Stephen and Jan are describing from the data?
STEPHEN: In our 2018 Hidden Tribes we described a group we called the exhausted majority, and we found it almost exactly the same as the Yale group on dismissives. And it's not a homogenous group - you have Democrats, independents, non-voters, and Republicans in that group - but they feel fed up with division. They’re more ideologically flexible if you know how they think about one issue. They're more supportive of, politicians and leaders finding compromise rather than standing their ground. And we've seen the term exhausted majority take on a life of its own.
Since then, we've seen figures like Andrew Yang, who ran for president using that term. We saw a Democratic Senate candidate in Ohio, Tim Ryan, running on speaking to the exhausted majority. The leader of the National Governors Association, the group that convenes the 50 governors in the United States, is chaired by the Utah governor, Spencer Cox, and he is really committed to speaking to the exhaustive majority and refers to it in all of his public events as part of his broader efforts to reduce polarization through his leadership.
I give talks around the country, to all different audiences and it really resonates with people. People easily self-describe as belonging to the exhausted majority. You can see that fatigue in the way that people speak about the country. The problem is we haven't been able to see it manifest itself in an electoral reality. Tim Ryan lost that race. Andrew Yang didn't get nominated. And while we're talking about exhaustion and the need to move on into a place of greater healing as a country, we're seeing that the last presidential race is looking like it's going to also be the next presidential race.
So we're seeing that the incentives that politics don't necessarily align to reflect the reality of what the population wants in the United States. Part of that may be because we have this two-party system. I’m currently in Madrid, and my colleagues here in Europe have different options. They have center-left, center-right parties, far-right parties, and centrist parties. And in the United States, because of this affective polarization, where there's almost nothing worse than imagining the other political party taking power for most people, voters will opt for more divisive characters oftentimes even though they might want a leadership that doesn't reflect that sort of partisan and ideological positioning.
JAN: This disconnect between the preferences of the public and the actual leaders that are in Congress, I find it really fascinating, and I think it's also indicative of two trends that we see there. The pattern with regard to attitudinal polarization in the mass public that there isn’t strong evidence for existing, and attitudinal polarization among political elites who serve in Congress.
Historically, there were plenty of conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans. We have really seen that the representatives from the two parties have drifted so far away from each other that, on an ideological scale, the most conservative Democrat is still way more liberal in their voting behavior than the most liberal Republican. The trends in attitudinal polarization are quite different for elites versus the mass public. Unfortunately, we don't really have the same data on affective polarization because we don't get to ask people in Congress how much they dislike supporters of the other side. But I think it's fascinating that the pattern of attitudinal polarization is so different between the mass public and elites.
LAURA: Great point, Jan. And if the exhausted Americans, the middles, really want to move away from polarization, there are some significant headwinds fighting. The way that people speak about each other has been mentioned many times, and I call this the sportification of politics. It is like: now I'm on a team and you're on a team and I don't care what happens as long as we win. From my vantage point as a journalist, I see that happening on both sides and the sportification of politics is, I think, a very dangerous trend.
And I wind up talking a lot about the headwind of misinformation, which is both a symptom of polarization and a cause of polarization. There are three kinds. I use misinformation as a general umbrella term, but misinformation is information that is just wrong and it gets shared. And there are lots of studies out there that show how difficult it is to pull back misinformation once it is shared. Disinformation is intentionally wrong and it is trying to trick people. Malinformation may have some grain of truth in it, or it may be completely true, but it is presented out of context or in a way intended to do harm. Misinformation is bad enough, but disinformation and malinformation are done by really rotten players.
There are very clear studies that indicate it is much harder to undo misinformation of any stripe than it is to try to inoculate against it. And that's part of why CoLab is working so diligently to try to get information out ahead of misinformation. The human brain is wired to remember what it hears first and me repeating, ”Oh, that's wrong,” doesn’t undo the damage, which is a fascinating and horrifying aspect of fighting misinformation and is contributing to the polarization.
The Power of Misinformation
KRISTAN: Jan and Stephen, I want you to comment on a study I read that is about a couple years old that was talking about this idea of political and ideological hate of the other side.
And those that have that greater sense of hate for the other political side are more likely and willing to share misinformation or fake news about that other party. Can you all unpack that? What happens when we see this strong dichotomy happening and how does that exacerbate both this misinformation and disinformation challenge?
JAN: The motivation to be a good partisan over the last few decades has become a really strong identity. People don't just vote, they also identify with their party, and with disliking the other side, or at least many people do.
I think most if not all people have a basic motivation to process information accurately, but we also have other motivations on top of that. And I think one motivation is to interpret incoming information through a partisan lens so that it either makes our own party look good or the other party look bad.
But then, if we get a lot of misinformation that presents the other side in a bad light, then we're using that information ourselves. That can also be contributing to making ourselves even more polarized because now we think that our dislike is actually based in reality. That is one way to think about how affective polarization can both cause being susceptible to misinformation and also be a consequence of receiving this information.
STEPHEN: I agree and want to come back to the point about false polarization or what we refer to as perception gaps. We found that the people who were the most politically engaged, meaning active on social media in terms of sharing posts and writing about politics had the largest misconceptions about the other side, despite watching more news and having politics be a bigger part of their life. So, it isn't necessarily the case that the most engaged are the most informed. It can be the case that the most engaged actually have the biggest caricature of understanding about others.
It relates to a broader sociological reality of our country over the last generation or so of partisan sorting, where we find that people who move into certain urban areas, for instance, might be college-educated and secular and Democrat and progressive. It used to be that, in the middle of the 20th century, for instance, you had a lot of cross-cutting identities where Democrats and Republicans were very likely to be neighbors or where you had Democrats and Republicans, but they both identified as Christian. We're seeing fewer and fewer of those overlapping central identities and more and more of this stacking of identities. When that's your social reality, the everyday encounters that might contradict your caricatured understanding don't happen, you're allowed to live in your bubble where everybody that you know reinforces your perspective and that allows you to preserve your partisan lens on reality.
KRISTAN: We also have a media bubble too, don't we? Laura, could you comment about that and the media landscape?
LAURA: Yes, and it has long roots. If you look back historically at the media, it was not an interactive enterprise. It has been very much a one-way ivory tower. “We're here. We're going to decide what's news and we're going to spit it out to you, whether it's through print or airwaves or what have you.” The real news media have recognized that this has been a problem, and so we're working to correct it. And that's why 1 of our 3 pillars is community engagement, trying to bring the public in. It's a bit of a black box problem. Nobody pulls back the curtain and sees how the media is actually created. So the same kinds of characterizations and misconceptions that happen between the polarized sides happen with the media, too.
There's no real education on how the sausage is made. Nobody has a very good idea about the difference between Fox News and an M.S.N.B.C., who are very much in the entertainment business, and real, original news reporting. News reporting is fact-checked and adheres to some sort of ethical standards. It's a big challenge to break media out of the bubble, make it more transparent, and let people participate in it in a way that we haven't done.
One of the things that we're doing is creating something called Amplify Colorado because we know there are certain communities that have been left out in a significant and harmful way. Whether it's communities of color or rural communities, or just communities that for various reasons have not been able to participate or access quality news. Amplify Colorado is trying to break down some of those walls, and we’re reaching out, starting with communities of color and going from there, to bring them into the process, and share their experiences and their expertise so that journalists can connect with them. It's also a way for people to connect with the journalists to humanize and help them out of their bubble.
Interventions That Work
KRISTAN: We've talked about how you build meaningful relationships and trust. I want to start talking about these things that actually work. These interventions like the Strengthening Democracy Initiative, which is research-based proof of things that can be done to actually reduce polarization.
JAN: When you do something in the real world without trying to really disentangle what is driving effects, it's oftentimes very hard to say what is really the ingredient of a certain intervention that leads to change, right?
I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase that correlation isn't causation. Just because two things coincide and happen at the same time, doesn’t mean we’re sure of what the real cause was. In our experiment, we randomly assigned different groups of people to go through different processes. Since they were randomly assigned, there is a certain probability distribution that they will show similar baseline levels without taking the intervention into account. We have a control group where people don't do an intervention and that provides us with a baseline level of affective polarization, and then in the other groups where people go through a certain procedure or intervention. Then we can calculate the probability that the change in attitude is due to random chance. If that probability is very low, we can have quite high confidence that this intervention is having an effect.
We did this with 25 different interventions at the same time, which also provides us insights into not only which of these interventions have effects, but also which of these interventions have the strongest effects. And that was really a new contribution that we made to this literature, which typically only identifies the effect of one intervention at a time. What we found when it comes to affective polarization, the interventions that produced the strongest impacts were ones that highlighted their sympathetic exemplars of people with different ideological beliefs.
One of the most promising interventions was a video that served as an ad for the beer company Heineken, where they brought together people with very different ideological beliefs who then completed a task, and were confronted with their different ideological beliefs. Then they had the choice to either walk away or to share a beer with each other and discuss their differences.
All of the pairs of people in that video chose to stay and talk, and that video really communicated that people can reasonably disagree on important political issues, but there can still be an appreciation for the person. These people were all sympathetic, relatable people, and that relates to a big stream in the literature of bringing people in contact with people from the other side. If those conversations or contacts are positive experiences, that really has a lot of potential for reducing effective polarization.
LAURA: Jan are you saying beer is the answer?
STEPHEN: That is where conclusions can get dangerous. We have spoken to the Heineken team and the Bud Light controversy around Dylan Mullaney spooked them, and they weren't sure what to do.
I want to share one experience More in Common had. We were inspired by the Strength in Democracy challenge and tried to deploy some of their most effective methods together. We also used a randomized control trial so we had a control group and then we had three treatment groups and so we were able to sort of isolate the effects of different interventions. We found that using the sympathetic outgroup member was really powerful. So we had video footage of people who were Democrats if the viewer was Republican or were Republicans if the viewer was a Democrat. But what was crucial, and this is also true in the Heineken ad, is you need to have somebody who is also taking the journey of persuasion with you.
So we started off the video with Democrats, for instance, saying, “I don't think Republicans have anything in common with me,” then they would watch these videos of sympathetic Republicans who would express viewpoints that are quite common among Republicans. And we would include statistics that showed that the viewpoints expressed in the video are actually very common.
For example: we asked Democrats what percent of Republicans they think believe that we should teach Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks in schools for students to learn about American history. Democrats thought only 35 percent of Republicans would want to teach MLK and Rosa Parks, and the actual figure is 93%. That is a big gap.
So we integrated those statistics. We featured out-group members who were sympathetic, and we showed members of their own team going on this journey of persuasion. And we saw really big effects from this video where people went from their place of animosity back to that level of near neutrality. So that was very exciting for us.
But there's bad news - we know in this media environment, people are just under a waterfall of information all the time. What we're doing with these experiments is effective, but it's very quickly depleted and undermined by the other avalanche of information that contradicts it. We found that within one week that feeling of neutrality had eroded, and people were back to their prior position. What that means to us is that in terms of interventions that will be effective, we really need an engine of this content or change in our culture, where people would be encountering members of the other party in a way that disabuses them of their misconceptions of other people, reduces their fear, and that allows people to have a clearer picture of reality. And that needs to be constantly reinforced. We have a lot of work ahead of us because we kind of know what fires the piston, but we need to now figure out how to build the rest of the engine and put it into a car so that it can actually take us into the future that we want.
KRISTAN: What are the major players here? There are always some bad actors, no matter where they are. We're up against algorithms, our own human nature, incentives, and more. Our political structure, particularly in the U.S., is set up from a win-and-lose perspective. The media is a big piece of this, but there are a lot of organizations and actors in this space because a lot of this comes down to the individual level.
LAURA: Right now, CoLab is helping to train a dozen news organizations across Colorado in something called engaged elections. And the idea is that the questions and the coverage do not originate from the media organization, but they come from the public. One of the approaches would be turning the town hall into something driven by the public instead of the politician. It turns the town hall on its head. We are helping to train through working with an organization called Harken. The idea is that these dozen news organizations will then be able to help the other 178 news organizations in CoLab on how to do this.
Another thing we’ve done is ask news organizations to specifically avoid what we call horse race coverage because we know that that does harm. Horse race coverage is about who is ahead of whom in a poll or in fundraising or whatever. It is exactly the wrong kind of coverage and reinforces sportification of politics. So we have asked them not to do that and are helping them try to figure out how to do these reverse town halls. There are other approaches like putting widgets on their social media and their websites that allow the public to ask questions so that journalists can go out and get answers to those questions. What we’ve seen is that no matter where they fall politically, people have the same kinds of questions about largely the same kinds of issues. We hope to tap that middle group of people and give them some engagement that is positive engagement, and not the kind of engagement that makes you want to throw things at the TV.
JAN: My thinking is similar, especially to what Stephen had described. Identifying these psychological mechanisms in terms of if something gets triggered, what are the responses to that in individuals? It's crucial to understand that, but if we are thinking about making changes at the societal level, then we really need to talk about events that can trigger these changes in entire groups of people. That could be local or national.
And I think the role of organizations and of elites is extremely crucial. And we really see that elites can cause polarization and can reduce polarization. An ad of Spencer Cox, the governor of Utah, and his opponent in the 2020 election, where they jointly endorse a peaceful transition of power independent of the election results in Utah was one of the interventions in our challenge and reduced polarization and strengthened democratic attitudes. Elites can have very positive effects, but we also see that the opposite is true too, right? When elites are engaging in fear-mongering and describing the other side as extreme, that can create the very issue of affective polarization that we are seeing here. They can trigger these psychological mechanisms in so many people at the same time because they are so widely heard.
Similar with organizations. Social media organizations are certainly not the only types of actors in this space, but the way that they design their algorithms in terms of what kind of post, and what kind of information you see has a big impact. And I think that there are different ways to design such algorithms. Maximizing clicks can sometimes result in people associating way more extreme opinions with a typical supporter of the other side. But if we can change those algorithms to deprioritize extreme views, that decides which posts are seen more or less often. I also think that would have a huge impact in terms of the kind of content that a lot of different people would see and the kind of psychological mechanisms that would be triggered by these. So I think it's really an interplay of elites, organizations, and individuals to create change.
STEPHEN: I would agree with that, and I want to talk about two domains that I think are really important here. One is that organizations that can convene communities. There's a strong relationship between loneliness and ideological polarization where people who are isolated find community in a space where people have a common set of beliefs and where there's a very clear outgroup. That can be that you're part of Antifa or it can be that you're part of MAGA.
There's a decline generally in America, but especially among younger people, in not having friends and not having a social life. The absence of community allows people to find ideological cohorts that they didn't belong to. It's generally bad for many reasons, but it is one of the exacerbating factors of polarization. And as I mentioned before, the lack of interaction directly with people of different viewpoints means you are left with your imagination and your distorted viewpoint from social media and traditional media that's playing into a stereotype view of the other side. So, building community is one mechanism that society should be looking to invest in for many reasons, and a downstream effect of it would be the reduction of polarization.
The second is a much broader feature of polarization that Jan alluded to before. It's that Republicans and Democrats used to have roughly the same number of people who identified as liberal and conservative within them among the voters. We've seen in the last 15 years, the Republican Party really has pulled away the conservative voters and Democrats have become more liberal. And what happened concurrently with that? Our culture-making institutions, Hollywood, magazines, newspapers, and our universities have taken on a narrower ideological viewpoint in a more liberal way that doesn't reflect the breadth of the country. It represents a partisan or ideological viewpoint that has now caused a backlash among conservatives. Conservatives say that politics is downstream of culture, a what that means is our kids are living on TikTok, not living on C-SPAN. So they're overwhelmingly consuming music and entertainment and their heroes are people in the entertainment world who are shaping their values.
Now we're seeing conservative groups like Daily Wire and PragerU creating alternative entertainment to try and pull their kids out of mainstream entertainment, which from their perspective is endorsing only one set of values. Part of what I think would be healthy for America is to have more viewpoint diversity within our culture-making institutions, partly because they're losing credibility. The universities in the United States used to have strong credibility across partisan groups. And we're seeing that decline year after year as conservatives are becoming more suspicious of university settings.
These places that create the American values in Hollywood and music where this debate also needs to come in and where we need not to change the values, but probably to broaden the values. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are crucial. But if your focus is only on those things and you don't talk about more conservative values like patriotism, commitment to family, and work ethic, then you're going to continue to see this backlash, which is the thing that the Republican Party is effectively running on now, combating wokeism.
What we're seeing is a political response to a cultural change. And if we can intervene in the culture, then we might see politics respond in a positive way.
KRISTAN: Please share what you consider to be takeaways for the audience to think about or do.
LAURA: Mine builds on what I have been saying for the public to be involved in the production of our news media, to have a more significant role, input, and access. Getting your friends, neighbors, children, and grandchildren involved to demand higher quality reporting and the change in culture is really an important point.
STEPHEN: In addition to what Laura said about misinformation and disinformation, part of the challenge is that news media are just affirming a perspective that they've already defined as being important and embodying the values that they want. So if you can moderate your media diet, meaning have a more diverse set of news sources in what you consume, you're going to pick up on stories that may not necessarily contradict what you're reading, but complicate it. And that should help you to understand and empathize with the perspective that you disagree with the most. There are news websites like Both Sides that compile perspectives from the left and the right to help you see an issue as it's being discussed from the left and the right, and not just within your one echo chamber.
JAN: Sometimes when we give these talks we get asked if affective polarization is really bad or doesn't it make sense to dislike supporters who hold very different beliefs.
I think two ways in which this can be really influential is, one, in personal relationships that we very much care about, like my grandma is a very important person in my life and we sometimes hold somewhat different ideological beliefs but it's very important for me to maintain that relationship in my life and not let my own beliefs about my grandma’s be very much affected by that. And then the other point is that sometimes the kind of decisions that we're making that can be driven by our dislike for the other side will impact not only our own lives but also the lives of future generations. I think it's very important that we leave future generations with a well-functioning democracy, and if that sometimes means not getting my own preferred candidate, but getting a candidate that respects democratic principles, then I think that is worth a tradeoff. We need to bring ourselves in a position where we would still make that decision, and not be so overwhelmed by dislike for our political opponents.
KRISTAN: I'm going to offer that we all need to learn to disagree better. There's a fascinating tour that Governor Cox and Governor Polis are doing, which is showing how you can sit down and disagree about issues without being damaging in the rhetoric of how you talk about the other. Learning to be able to disagree, and have hard conversations is really critical to this conversation and something we all can do at the individual level.
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