(Column, June 24).

The reason some of us think partisans are needlessly hyperventilating about the awfulness of the “other” side is that too many partisans are indeed needlessly hyperventilating.

A new survey sponsored by a group called More in Common shows that the more politically attuned Americans are, the more likely they are to falsely attribute extreme views to the other side. Repeat: falsely.

As in the movie Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” Or, as More in Common calls it, what we have is a “perception gap.”

To quote the More in Common announcement of its survey results, “Americans have a deeply distorted understanding of each other. … Overall, Democrats and Republicans imagine almost twice as many of their political opponents as reality hold views they consider “extreme”. Even on the most controversial issues in our national debates, Americans are less divided than most of us think. This is good news for those worried about the character of this country. The majority of Americans hold views that may not be so different from your own.”

For example, Democrats wrongly think most Republicans are blind to the existence of racism. On average, Democrats guessed that only about half of Republicans believe “racism still exists in America,” but in reality, about 80% of Republicans recognize that racism continues. Similarly, Republicans think more than half of Democrats believe that “most police are bad people,” but actually, less than 20% think that way.

The only people who guessed correctly that both sides have views relatively close to each other were those who are “politically disengaged.” In other words, if you pay less attention to politics, you tend to think better of the view of others, and you’re also better informed about them.

This is instructive….

[The rest of the column is here.]


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