Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines

 

It’s pretty rare for me to say, “Goodness, look at what Stanford’s Chandler Chair of Communication has to say!” And in truth, I haven’t looked closely at the methodology of this paper, and even if it’s flawless, let’s wait to see if it can be replicated. Still, the claim they’re making is interesting:

When defined in terms of social identity and affect toward co-partisans and opposing partisans, the polarization of the American electorate has dramatically increased. We document the scope and consequences of affective polarization of partisans using implicit, explicit and behavioral indicators. Our evidence demonstrates that hostile feelings for the opposing party are ingrained or automatic in voters’ minds, and that affective polarization based on party is just as strong as polarization based on race. We further show that party cues exert powerful effects on non-political judgments and behaviors. Partisans discriminate against opposing partisans, and do so to a degree that exceeds discrimination based on race. We note that the willingness of partisans to display open animus for opposing partisans can be attributed to the absence of norms governing the expression of negative sentiment and that increased partisan affect provides an incentive for elites to engage in confrontation rather than cooperation.

Among the claims they make are these: “A standard measure of social distance — parents’ displeasure over the prospects of their offspring marrying into a family with a different party affiliation — shows startling increases in the United States” since the 1980s.” Moreover, they claim, data from online dating sites suggest that “marital selection based on partisanship exceeds selection based on physical (e.g. body shape) or personality attributes.”

This is of course partly gibberish: Party affiliation can’t be disambiguated from ‘personality attributes’ unless you genuinely believe there’s no difference at all between the parties.

But what’s interesting is that they used the Implicit Association Test on a sample of 2,000 adults. There’s a lot of controversy about this test, but it’s thought to measure attitudes that people claim not to have, or know they shouldn’t have. You may remember it from the “Are you a closet racist” tests that circulate online.

This is what they found:

The spread between Democrats and Republicans on the partisan D-score was massive (t(824.66) = 17.68, p<.001), with the Republicans averaging .27 (se = .02), the Democrats -.23 (se = .02), and Independents -.02 (.02). In the case of implicit racial bias, African Americans showed a preference for African Americans (D-score = -.09, se = .02), while whites displayed a somewhat stronger in-group preference (D-score = .16, se = .01). Hispanics and Asians both revealed a slight preference for whites over blacks. Consistent with previous research, the black-white difference in implicit bias was substantial (t(740.10) = 11.04, p<.001), but the effect size for race (Cohen’s d = .61) was not nearly as strong as the corresponding effect of party (Cohen’s d = .95).

Surprised by this, they tried randomly assigning 1,021 participants to perform two tasks. The first required them to choose between a Democrat and Republican; the second required choosing between a European American and an African American. They were asked to read the resumes of a pair of graduating high school seniors and decide to whom to award a scholarship:

Depending on the task to which they were assigned, participants were exposed to candidates with either a partisan affiliation (cued through membership in a partisan extracurricular group), or a racial identity (cued through a stereotypical African American/European American name and membership in an extracurricular group)

And whaddya know:

In the partisan task approximately 80% of partisans (both Democrats and Republicans) selected their in-party candidate. Democratic leaners showed a stronger preference for the Democratic candidate than Republican leaners showed for the Republican candidate, though both groups displayed the in-party preference (80.4% and 69.2% respectively). Independents showed a slight preference for the Democratic candidate (57.9%). In-group selection on the basis of race was confined to African Americans (73.1% selecting the African American), with European Americans showing a small preference for the African American candidate (55.8% selecting the African American).

Candidate qualification had no significant effect on winner selection. Even when the candidate from the opposing party was more qualified, the participants gave the scholarship to their co-partisans:

When the Republican was more qualified than the Democrat, the probability of a Democrat selecting the Republican candidate was only .30 (95% confidence interval), when both candidates were equally qualified the probability of a Democrat selecting the Republican candidate fell to .21 (95% confidence interval), and when the Democrat was most qualified the probability of a Democrat selecting the Republican candidate was a meager .14. Similarly, when the Democrat was more qualified, the probability of a Republican selecting the Democrat was only .15 (95% confidence interval), when the two candidates were equally qualified the probability of a Republican selecting the Democrat candidate was .21 (95% confidence interval), and when the Republican was most qualified the probability of Republicans selecting the Democrat candidate was .21 (95% confidence interval). The probability of a partisan selecting an out-party candidate never rose above .3 and the coefficients for the various interaction terms between participant partisan affiliation and candidate qualifications were never significant; partisanship simply trumped academic excellence in this task.

What happened when they tried the experiment with race, rather than partisanship?

The results of the race manipulation showed generally weaker effects of outgroup bias. Most African American and European American participants selected the African American candidate. African Americans were significantly more likely than European Americans to select the African American candidate (b=.95, se=.36, p<.01). However, there was an overall tendency to select the European American as the winner when she was the more qualified candidate (b=-.93, se=.30, p<.01). There were no significant interactions between participant race and candidate qualifications.

They then tried another experiment: trust and dictator games:

In the trust game, Player 1 is given an initial endowment ($10) and instructed that she is free to give some, all, or none to Player 2 (said to be a member of a designated group). She is further informed that the researcher will triple the amount transferred to Player 2, who will have a chance to transfer an amount back to Player 1 (though Player 2 is under no obligation to return any money). The dictator game is an abbreviated version in which there is no opportunity for Player 2 to return funds to Player 1 and where the amount transferred is not tripled by the researcher. Since there is no opportunity for Player 1 to observe the strategy of Player 2, variation in the amount Player 1 allocates to different categories of Player 2 in the dictator game is attributable only to group dislike and prejudice.

And whaddya know:

In both versions of the game, players were more generous toward co-partisans, but not co-ethnics. The average amount allocated to co-partisans in the trust game was $4.58 (95% confidence interval [4.33, 4.83]) representing a “bonus” of some ten percent over the average allocation of $4.17. In the dictator game, co-partisans were awarded twenty-four percent over the average allocation.

Their conclusion may be an overstretch, but it’s still an interesting thought:

… our evidence documents a significant shift in the relationship between American voters and their parties. Fifty years ago, comparative party researchers described American parties as relatively weak, at least by the standards of European “mass membership” parties. The prototypical instance of the latter category was a party “membership in which is bound up in all aspects of the individual’s life.” By this standard, American parties have undergone a significant “role reversal.” Today, the sense of partisan identification is all encompassing and affects behavior in both political and non-political contexts.

A big problem with the study is that inherently, they seem to be assuming that the parties don’t genuinely stand for anything. Now, I would have said this was ridiculous. But let’s face it: a Democrat with vile manners has managed to soar to the top of the GOP polls. Can’t really wish that fact away.

As I said, let’s see if these studies can be replicated. If they can, though, they’d make some sense of the frustration I feel when reading the news. The other day, I wrote about this:

I’m being driven insane by the way all journalism now is partisan journalism. I have to fact-check everything I read for myself — which is hugely time-consuming — and half the time, when I look up the original document or source material to which a piece of journalism alludes, I find it said nothing of the sort.

Genferei replied, and it’s a reasonable rebuttal:

At least now you can fact-check things yourself. You can look at the source document, or read another story from a different outlet about the same events. Were the gin-swilling, chain-smoking, hard-bitten reporters of The Golden Age Of Journalism (R) really paragons of unvarnished, fact-checked truth? Or was what they said all you got, so no point worrying about what ‘reality’ really was?

This is true. But those gin-swilling, chain-smoking, hard-bitten reporters — and I was once one of them, so I know — certainly weren’t as nakedly and obviously partisan. We at least paid lip-service to the virtue of “non-partisanship.” And as I recall, there really was a belief that politics stopped at the water’s edge. To play politics with American national security was, truly, held to be un-American.

Does it seem to you that partisanship is now the deepest social cleavage in America? If so what do you think will be the consequences of losing this amount of social trust?

There are 101 comments.

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  1. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The study sounds right.
    In my business, I have been burned by entitlement liberals too many times. We preferentially work with Ricochetti.

    • #1
    • December 18, 2015, at 3:57 AM PST
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  2. Dave of Barsham Member

    I can say that it’s something that I struggle with personally. I’m fortunate that essentially every family member I have regular contact with (even extended family) is conservative. I certainly work with liberals but often find myself judging the rest of their character based on things they say about politics and have to correct myself. I don’t like that this is how I feel about it, but what I love about my country is actively opposed by the left. So when someone supports them, even someone I know to be of goodwill, it colors my judgement of them.

    • #2
    • December 18, 2015, at 4:01 AM PST
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  3. Crabby Appleton Inactive

    Julien Benda in the intro to Treason of The Intellectuals observes that before the 19th century a person’s hatreds and enemies were individual. But with the rise of groups and group dentities, the group’s hatreds and enemies became the individual’s. Now in the age of instant information and communication, and the deliberate delivery of polarized content, individuals tend to seek sympathetic content sources that validate their group’s ideas ( my theory). I blame the damned Internet!

    • #3
    • December 18, 2015, at 4:09 AM PST
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  4. I Walton Member

    I find the study credible. Sowell, in “Conflict of Visions” describes some fundamental differences in the way people approach all issues and, even though he doesn’t explore it, these correspond to party affiliation. Our minds are so different that we each see the other group as stupid, ignorant or evil. Secondly, the partisan divide must intensify as government becomes more powerful and more deeply involved in what used to be private matters. Public goods are jointly consumed and one gets them whether one wants them or not, whether one hates them or loves them and some have to pay for them and others not. The only way to avoid intense conflict in collectivist approaches to everyday activities is through homogenization. For this reason such collectivist centralized systems in large heterogenous communities become authoritarian or break apart. In a private market, such differences in views, interests, values and attitudes are mostly irrelevant and political differences more parlor games than fundamental conflicts of everything.

    • #4
    • December 18, 2015, at 4:33 AM PST
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  5. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    Crabby Appleton: I blame the damned Internet!

    So do I, although it’s an instinct. There are other things going on, for sure, but I have a dread suspicion we really opened Pandora’s box with this one.

    I don’t think the effects of the Great Recession should be underestimated, though. Nor the effect of losing two wars — whether you blame Bush for starting them or Obama for not staying the course, these are devastating blows.

    • #5
    • December 18, 2015, at 4:36 AM PST
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  6. Kozak Member
    Kozak Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    At my nephews wedding reception about 2003, his new father in law, a Protestant cleric, made a speech that included ” as proud Democrats….” I was shocked speechless. That was the first time I realized everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is political to them.

    • #6
    • December 18, 2015, at 4:38 AM PST
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  7. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Does it seem to you that partisanship is now the deepest social cleavage in America?

    Trigger warning.

    • #7
    • December 18, 2015, at 4:39 AM PST
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  8. Sandy Member

    If only the GOP leadership had the same distrust and dislike of Democrats that ordinary Republicans do.

    When you could count on members of both parties to share many of the same values and to cross lines, it was somewhat easier to praise bi-partisanship, and maybe–but only maybe–easier to be friends with someone of the opposite party, because deep-seated partisan bitterness is nothing new. I well remember the bitterness of the Goldwater campaign that ruptured friendships and even families. I also remember that academics were particularly enamored of European parties that “stood for something.” They got what they wanted with an added bonus, since the hated Republicans could be counted on to operate under the older, bi-partisan system that they themselves have rejected except when convenient.

    • #8
    • December 18, 2015, at 4:51 AM PST
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  9. MarciN Member

    The other thing that has increased, and I think it underlies the partisanship development, is the news being around us twenty-four hours a day. It entertains us constantly. It has all the elements of sports and soap operas. It takes your mind off your problems. And it stokes emotions. And partisanship.

    I have felt for a long time that living in a media-saturated, news-always-on environment has been and remains the greatest challenge of our time.

    • #9
    • December 18, 2015, at 4:57 AM PST
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  10. Sandy Member

    A little story: My maternal grandmother was a die-hard, small-town Republican, with partisan views that went back to the Civil War. She was also a strong Methodist. In 1966 when I introduced my new husband, she discovered that while he was definitely not Methodist he was a Republican. She pronounced him “very smart” and a friendship was born.

    • #10
    • December 18, 2015, at 5:00 AM PST
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  11. PsychLynne Inactive

    The thing I did most frustrating is the implicit personally assumptions, and in my world, assumptions about intelligence, that go along with partisan preferences. I have several good friends who don’t know my political affiliation because I suspect they would feel they couldn’t trust me on non-related matters. I also have colleagues who would not ever take any scientific or policy critique I make seriously if they knew I was conservative.
    Suddenly, if my voting history was known, I wouldn’t be fun-loving, bright, can look at the problem from 10 different sides, Psychlynne. I would be close minded, rigid, and misled.

    All that to say, partisanship is a significant filter for many people. However, I try to believe that I see the worst of it, or see it more intensely, because of the work I do and living I the DC area.

    So

    • #11
    • December 18, 2015, at 5:30 AM PST
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  12. Guruforhire Member

    I quit Facebook because I literally couldn’t take the hate anymore -from family-. I didn’t want to burn the last footbridge between us in defense of my personal honor.

    This goes back to the core problem of multiculturalism and common administration. Party identity is a stronger proxy for culture than ethnicity or other factors right now.

    Nor does paying lip service to the ideal mean anything when you lack enough diversity in the organization to hold a mirror up to your behavior. People outside the camp complaining can be written off, and the ego investment into the false self-perception never has to be challenged.

    • #12
    • December 18, 2015, at 5:34 AM PST
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  13. Guruforhire Member

    MarciN:The other thing that has increased, and I think it underlies the partisanship development, is the news being around us twenty-four hours a day. It entertains us constantly. It has all the elements of sports and soap operas. It takes your mind off your problems. And it stokes emotions. And partisanship.

    I have felt for a long time that living in a media-saturated, news-always-on environment has been and remains the greatest challenge of our time.

    Media isn’t the problem. Social media is.

    It puts on public display that which only the shadow should know. Most people forget the other end of the internet is someone else’s house.

    • #13
    • December 18, 2015, at 5:36 AM PST
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  14. Profile Photo Member

    Judging by the responses to Claire’s original point, too many conservative folks lack a certain amount of introspection regarding their own role in today’s partisan-heavy state of affairs. I think a lot of us can agree that one should not treat being a supporter of either the GOP or the Dems the same way one is a fan of, say, the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots.

    Yet this nation is in this place of politics-as-sports-fandom in large part due to entertainment and marketing skills of one Rush Limbaugh. If he, in his time, had been somewhat like Hugh Hewitt in his presentation of politics, it is significantly less likely we’d see the likes of Fox News, Sean Hannity, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert come right after him.

    And now that such partisan fandom is hitting the diminishing returns wall, we’re seeing conservatives have a convenient memory regarding their role. Hypocritically typical?

    • #14
    • December 18, 2015, at 5:58 AM PST
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  15. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    When I was younger, I had the notion that the Democrats and the Republicans were driving the ball to the same end zone, and squabbling how best to make that happen. And maybe that was true at some point. But now it is clear to me that in fact we are driving the ball toward different end zones.

    It is no unreasonable to think that someone would give preference to another person who shares their desire for the ball in the right end zone. Although I would never do so at my place of business, because it is illegal, against policy, and not for me to say, I would certainly visit a business run by a conservative over a liberal, everything else being generally equal. And I’m far more likely to be friends with a conservative than a liberal.

    • #15
    • December 18, 2015, at 6:19 AM PST
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  16. Retail Lawyer Member

    Partisanship, if not the biggest social cleavage, has increased markedly over the last decade or so. Since Obama promised to reduce it, this seems consistent with his other promises. He does not even pretend to take into account the judgement and desires of about half of the country. “Punish your enemies”. I used to be able to have a normal social life in the Bay Area as a conservative swimming amongst liberals, but those days are long gone. Where it leads is close mindedness, social isolation, the “great sort” geographically . . . all the way to college life these days.

    A related effect is the complete acceptance of one world view or the other. Why do liberal scientists get hysterical about climate change, despite the burden of proof laying with proponents of a theory and not being met in this case? Why do unions support open immigration despite knowledge of supply and demand? Why do Chinese Americans support Affirmative action? I suspect that liberals view victory as so necessary that they are willing to sacrifice much.

    • #16
    • December 18, 2015, at 6:20 AM PST
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  17. Kermit Hoffpauir Inactive

    As far as party division, it was definitely prevalent in the South when I was young. I met my first registered Republicans at the age of 16. After my parents bought a new home, these GOP’ers were next door neighbors. The husband was an engineer in management of a local major refinery who came from Chicago. His wife was from Colorado. She was also the first self described feminist (s.he loathed the term women’s libber). Before you misunderstand, back then feminism, at least locally, was about women being able to a bank account without the requirement to have a husband or male relative have to be co-signer, and things of that nature. Locally Democrats were everywhere and I registered to vote in 1973 as a Dem because otherwise the Dem primary was a de facto general election due that was only party with candidates.

    Ronald Reagan changed this dynamic.

    • #17
    • December 18, 2015, at 6:29 AM PST
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  18. Kermit Hoffpauir Inactive

    Retail Lawyer:Partisanship, if not the biggest social cleavage, has increased markedly over the last decade or so. Since Obama promised to reduce it, this seems consistent with his other promises. He does not even pretend to take into account the judgement and desires of about half of the country. “Punish your enemies”. I used to be able to have a normal social life in the Bay Area as a conservative swimming amongst liberals, but those days are long gone. Where it leads is close mindedness, social isolation, the “great sort” geographically . . . all the way to college life these days.

    A related effect is the complete acceptance of one world view or the other. Why do liberal scientists get hysterical about climate change, despite the burden of proof laying with proponents of a theory and not being met in this case? Why do unions support open immigration despite knowledge of supply and demand? Why do Chinese Americans support Affirmative action? I suspect that liberals view victory as so necessary that they are willing to sacrifice much.

    IMO incorrect. Across street neighbors both liberal post doc profs. They don’t buy into climate change other than normal. Both rain forest specialists, one flora (world class specialist) and the other fauna.

    • #18
    • December 18, 2015, at 6:31 AM PST
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  19. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Brad2971: Judging by the responses to Claire’s original point, too many conservative folks lack a certain amount of introspection regarding their own role in today’s partisan-heavy state of affairs. I think a lot of us can agree that one should not treat being a supporter of either the GOP or the Dems the same way one is a fan of, say, the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots.

    Um. The Tea Party suggests that in fact we conservatives are much less likely to root for the Republicans merely through tribal affiliation.

    • #19
    • December 18, 2015, at 6:31 AM PST
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  20. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Brad2971: too many conservative folks lack a certain amount of introspection regarding their own role in today’s partisan-heavy state of affairs.

    I am heavily partisan toward conservatives, for some very basic reasons.

    I understand and get along with people who fear G-d. We have a shared ethic for honesty and hard work, a belief that our lives should matter, and that we are responsible for our own actions.

    Someone who works with me who believes they are entitled to things regardless of whether they have earned those things, who believe that somehow I am a fat cat who just exercises power for its own sake, or believes that the purpose of life is merely racking up a bucket-list of enjoyable experiences, is not someone with whom I have enough in common to work with.

    This is not empty partisanship. It is highly utilitarian sorting of individuals to maximize productivity.

    • #20
    • December 18, 2015, at 6:38 AM PST
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  21. Profile Photo Member

    iWe:

    Brad2971: Judging by the responses to Claire’s original point, too many conservative folks lack a certain amount of introspection regarding their own role in today’s partisan-heavy state of affairs. I think a lot of us can agree that one should not treat being a supporter of either the GOP or the Dems the same way one is a fan of, say, the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots.

    Um. The Tea Party suggests that in fact we conservatives are much less likely to root for the Republicans merely through tribal affiliation.

    Just because New York Jets fans talk trash about their own team more than most, doesn’t mean they’re going to be open to be Patriots fans:)

    • #21
    • December 18, 2015, at 6:39 AM PST
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  22. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Brad2971:

    iWe:

    Brad2971: I think a lot of us can agree that one should not treat being a supporter of either the GOP or the Dems the same way one is a fan of, say, the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots.

    Um. The Tea Party suggests that in fact we conservatives are much less likely to root for the Republicans merely through tribal affiliation.

    Just because New York Jets fans talk trash about their own team more than most, doesn’t mean they’re going to be open to be Patriots fans:)

    The analogy fails. The fact is that Conservatives are much more likely to break away from the herd when the herd is going in an un-conservative direction. Which means we are not being blind fans at all. The principles lead the support for a given cause or candidate – not the other way around.

    • #22
    • December 18, 2015, at 6:50 AM PST
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  23. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    Blaming Rush Limbaugh for partisanship is like blaming the Easter Bunny for diabetes.

    • #23
    • December 18, 2015, at 6:55 AM PST
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  24. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    While everyone pats themselves on the back for insightful analysis of this “new” trend, please remember that you are citizens of a nation that once went to physical war with itself for four bloody years.

    What we are really seeing is the deterioration of temporary unity brought about by World War II. You had a generation that had seen the excesses of state control and modern killing. This created a foreign policy consensus that held together, with little variation, for nine straight administrations regardless of party.

    Domestically we benefitted by being physically isolated during that war. We didn’t go the socialist route the Europeans did. And because we were repelled by Hitler’s race fueled atrocities we made great strides on that front, too.

    Consensus of this type, narrowing the differences in the parties, made for little political advantage. Its all gone cattywampus because we’ve reverted to back to normal.

    • #24
    • December 18, 2015, at 6:56 AM PST
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  25. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    I’d say the divide is less Republican/Democrat than conservative/liberal. After all, what is the Republican Party these days but an organization that pretends to advance conservatism while actually institutionalizing liberalism via big-spending budgets and the importation of Mohammedan barbarians.

    • #25
    • December 18, 2015, at 6:59 AM PST
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  26. Guruforhire Member

    EJHill: We didn’t go the socialist route the Europeans did.

    Ummm yes we did.

    • #26
    • December 18, 2015, at 7:07 AM PST
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  27. Z in MT Member

    My family is almost all conservatives, but my friends and coworkers (unfortunately there is too much overlap there) are all liberals. In my leadership and management position I achieve neutrality by having a strong aversion to political discussions at work.

    • #27
    • December 18, 2015, at 7:09 AM PST
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  28. I Walton Member

    Mike LaRoche:I’d say the divide is less Republican/Democrat than conservative/liberal. After all, what is the Republican Party these days but an organization that pretends to advance conservatism while actually institutionalizing liberalism via big-spending budgets and the importation of Mohammedan barbarians.

    Absolutely and by the nature of the incentives they face, almost all members of legislatures tend liberal and thereby fuel conservative and libertarian anger at the establishments.

    • #28
    • December 18, 2015, at 7:10 AM PST
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  29. Profile Photo Member

    We live increasingly in a time where people feel that their politics gives them license to otherwise bad behavior towards opposing partisans. I don’t think it is as bad as it can be yet, but we are moving in that direction.

    I first became really conscious of it during the Gabby Giffords shooting, which the press blamed on the Tea Party. At the time, I thought to myself that if one half of the country really thinks the other half of the country is bunch of murderers, then social order is going to break down sooner or later.

    You see it again from time to time, including MSNBC’s random, factless speculation that the Boston Marathon bombing was the work of Republicans. And most recently in the New York Daily News’s cover telling Republicans what they can do with their thoughts and prayers after the San Bernadino shootings.

    I suspect a lot of the worst ravings are cynical and insincere, but how many years of listening to “your neighbors are killers” turns into people actually thinking that?

    • #29
    • December 18, 2015, at 7:16 AM PST
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  30. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    All this “increasing partisanship” stuff strikes me as the democrat-media complex backing off to Plan C: Explain Them, after Plan A: Ignore Them and Plan B: Destroy Them didn’t work like they had hoped.

    Bi-partisanship is just the DC gangs agreeing to a truce long enough to figure out how to screw us even harder. If partisanship is bad, then Republics are evil and the Constitution is evil. Representatives do not go to Washington to agree, but to disagree.

    • #30
    • December 18, 2015, at 7:23 AM PST
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