The Left believes that right-wing tribalism—bigotry, racism—is tearing the country apart. The Right believes that left-wing tribalism—identity politics, political correctness—is tearing the country apart. They are both right. - Amy Chua
Today’s state of polarization reflects unsettling shifts in our society, as well as the economy as a whole, leaving a majority of Americans feeling like strangers in their own country. Concerns around job securities, widening gaps in wages, and heightened racial tensions are all contributing to an uneasiness that is spilling over into media channels, journalism, and social dialogue.
For many, partisanship isn’t only relegated to politics anymore– neighborhoods, workplaces, households, and social media feeds are becoming more and more politically homogeneous. Shockingly, Americans are less likely to have neighbors who belong to another party than they were fifty years ago. Even bipartisan marriages are on the decline, as political affiliations are becoming a stronger filter for companionship.
In large part, the news most Americans see in their news feeds or on their favorite news channel merely echos their own views. It has become precarious to hold a public discourse between two parties who disagree without denigrating into an angry rant in which at least one person is attacked for their views as stupid, invalid, or even outright evil. Often, it is the loudest and most aggressive voices that get the most airtime, drowning out the pockets of healthy discourse that are actually happening.
It wasn’t long ago that American voting practices pointed to a very different pattern, widely demonstrating an affinity for a person over a political party. As recently as the 70s, voter preferences were only loosely tied to party lines. Today, many Americans choose to vote for party, regardless of their affinity for the associated candidate. Fifty years ago, 5% or less of Republicans or Democrats reported that they would be displeased if a son or daughter married someone from the other party. In 2008, that number had risen to 20%, and by 2010 it skyrocketed to 50% of Republicans and 33% of Democrats.
Partisanship has become part of American social identity, extending beyond mere viewpoints on policy or politicians, and has become near-religious. Research demonstrates that most people evaluate the same act or action differently based on which party is responsible, meaning that their view of “right” or “wrong” depends on who is doing it. And there’s a growing understanding that political identity has become performative: most Americans don’t just want to vote for their party, they want everyone to know who they voted for. In many cases, political affiliation is replacing ethnic origin, race, and religion as the foci of identity.