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Democrats must get out of their bubble

Arlie Hochschild, professor emerita of sociology | July 22, 2019

In a surprising new national survey, members of each major American political party were asked what they imagined to be the beliefs held by members of the other. The survey asked Democrats: “How many Republicans believe that racism is still a problem in America today?” Democrats guessed 50%. It’s actually 79%. The survey asked Republicans how many Democrats believe “most police are bad people”. Republicans estimated half; it’s really 15%.Activists supporting sanctuary cities

The survey, published by the thinktank More in Common as part of its Hidden Tribes of America project, was based on a sample of more than 2,000 people.

One of the study’s findings: the wilder a person’s guess as to what the other party is thinking, the more likely they are to also personally disparage members of the opposite party as mean, selfish or bad. Not only do the two parties diverge on a great many issues, they also disagree on what they disagree on.

This much we might guess. But what’s startling is the further finding that higher education does not improve a person’s perceptions – and sometimes even hurts it. In their survey answers, highly educated Republicans were no more accurate in their ideas about Democratic opinion than poorly educated Republicans. For Democrats, the education effect was even worse: the more educated a Democrat is, according to the study, the less he or she understands the Republican worldview.

“This effect,” the report says, “is so strong that Democrats without a high school diploma are three times more accurate than those with a postgraduate degree.” And the more politically engaged a person is, the greater the distortion.

What could be going on? Bubble-ism, the report suggests. Even more than their Republican counterparts, highly educated Democrats tend to live in exclusively Democratic enclaves. The more they report “almost all my friends hold the same political views”, the worse their guesses on what Republicans think.

So do they believe in sticking with their own? No. When asked in a Pew survey whether it’s important to live in a place “where most people share my political views”, half of conservatives and only a third of liberals agreed. Although in principle more tolerant of political diversity, highly educated – and mostly urban – Democrats live, ironically, with less of it.

Something besides city living may be going on. Particularly among highly engaged Democrats, I think many are in grief. The recent losses have been hard to absorb: the presidency. The Supreme Court. The Senate. A majority of governorships. And of states in which the governor and both houses of the state legislatures are controlled by the same party, 22 are Republican and 14 Democratic. Withdrawal from the Paris agreement. Neil Gorsuch. Voter suppression. Children in cages. The future of the party highly unclear. Democrats are now the ones who feel like strangers in their own land.

In the face of loss or personal crisis – whether a pink slip, a medical issue or political defeat – most of us turn inward toward what feels self-confirming, comforting and safe. During the Great Depression, and more recently in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, those who had lost homes and jobs tended to volunteer less, visit less and generally retreat from the world, sometimes thereby making a bad situation worse. Today’s wounded warriors of the left – including many women and voters of color who have struggled mightily and fear their progress is in danger of going up in smoke – may feel a similar need for the familiar.

Being home surely restores one’s spirits. But in the long run, staying home leads to trouble. It keeps the left from knowing what it needs to know, good news and bad. It further marginalizes it. After all, in the heat of battle, the most brilliant generals are not those who insult the enemy from inside their own tent. It is those who most astutely gauge the troop count, the terrain and quirks of the opposing general.

In peacetime, too, in this political moment, the best approach is to learn about what is sometimes the alternative truth in which Fox News watchers live, the class and cultural grievances it appeals to and amplifies, and to understand, as one keeps listening, a curiously hidden moderation in substance and tone.

For starters, Democrats can recognize pieces of common ground where they already exist. For my 2016 book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, I studied enthusiastic backers of Donald Trump in Louisiana – the last place on earth a Democrat might look for common ground.

But one man I talked with – someone raised on a sugar plantation, retired from a life-long career in oil, a proud member of the Louisiana Tea Party and a Trump supporter – grinned broadly at the mention of Bernie Sanders. “Free college? Free medical care? How yawl going to pay for that? He’s a pie in the sky guy,” he said. “But he’s a good man, Uncle Bernie.” Although an oil worker, he was a fan of clean energy, and liked the idea of a Manhattan Project to implement it.

Among Republicans, he isn’t alone. Despite the president’s denial of the climate crisis, national polls recently conducted by researchers at YaleStanford and Monmouth Universities show that a majority of voters in both parties now agree on many actions to mitigate it.

Should the US “set strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants to reduce global warming and improve public heath”, Yale asked, even if “the cost of electricity to consumers and companies would likely increase”? Eighty-seven per cent of Democrats and 56% of Republicans answered yes.

“Should the US participate in the Paris climate accord and reduce greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do?” A majority of voters in both parties said yes.

A coalition of college Republican clubs recently endorsed a tax on carbon pollution.

There are other promising signs of middle ground. In response to the violence and death in Charlottesville, Virginia, big donors to the feuding parties, George Soros and David Koch, jointly funded the After Charlottesville Project to curb online calls to violence.

The New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Texas senator Ted Cruz have co-sponsored a congressional bill preventing lawmakers from entering lucrative second careers as corporate lobbyists. Conservatives and liberals united to push for ex-felons in Florida to win the right to vote in 2018, and, this year to push modest but significant reform of our draconian criminal justice laws through Congress.

Such cross-party diplomats have not misjudged their opposite number – such a good lesson for us all.

When Martin Luther King marched from Selma to Montgomery, his fellow marchers included a priest, a nun, two rabbis, a Greek Orthodox archbishop and clergy of many Protestant denominations, black and white. In the long run, major political change virtually always requires rising up to cross a bridge – an urgently needed model for the Democratic party itself today.

Crossposted from The Guardian

Comments to “Democrats must get out of their bubble

  1. At some point , the United States Of America is going to have to realize that two wrongs can make a right if both parties realize that what they have done is wrong and are willing to admit that they have done so publicly, in order to continue the life’s lesson for the broader public to understand no one is perfection but we can peruse our own devinaty . Together hand in hand without unrighteous cause, together forward thinking minds can realize the booboo that has crippled negative experience to a whim of the ignorant. Eddison took 292 times to figure the light bubble theory out. Contemporary minds have confuddled depreivated cooping skills to a set of engineers.

    “ the heart is convinced a folder

    Loves not a card holder “

    The numbers are blinding the public and shielding the hatefulness of toil .

  2. Washington DC IS a bubble! This break is not a vacation for them, but a chance to explore voter sentiment in their districts. Take advantage of your Representative’s local presence to attend face-to-face events, ask the tough questions raised here, and tell them to start working together to attack the severe problems we face.

    • The trouble with that theory is that they have always been doing this kind of thing and we are in the worst social, political and environmental states since WWII.

      They completely fail to figure out how to make the right things happen, so business as usual stupidity caused them to lose the 2016 presidential election to Trump as the worst case scenario, along with “Moscow” Mitch, the outrageously deranged “deplorable” insult to the working class, failure to pay attention to the needs of We The People far too many times, etc. in American history.

      Our last chance is to use the expertise of our best and brightest people, including social scientists to inform, educate and motivate We The People so we can save ourselves before global warming, that politicians ignored, destroys our resources and opportunities to save ourselves.

      • People don’t have the patience to understand that they’re on a pathway to drive off a cliff as a human race. we are driving with our eyes closed into the future and no one has the time to listen to sanity over the percussion of insanity which we have led our Government structure by.

  3. Well Professor, so much for getting the democrats out of their bubble, they decided to leave Washington and abandon American Democracy for at least 46 more days without solving the threats against our democracy, and the human race as their highest priority first.

    Your most excellent concluding statement was “When Martin Luther King marched from Selma to Montgomery, his fellow marchers included a priest, a nun, two rabbis, a Greek Orthodox archbishop and clergy of many Protestant denominations, black and white. In the long run, major political change virtually always requires rising up to cross a bridge – an urgently needed model for the Democratic party itself today.” Instead the democratic politicians in Washington have virtually decided to blow up the bridge and go on vacation.

    This is why I continue to plead with you and your colleagues, especially since there can be no better social problem solvers than social scientists like you, to communicate with the public in a way to save our Democracy before Washington politicians complete their path of destruction.

  4. Yes, there is so much at stake right now – we’ve got to punch back fast with the facts and they are scary.. Simple words but Democrats need to take the offensive – be loud so that everyone hears.

    • Depending on politicians to protect our democracy has proven to be an impossible dream so far in this century alone. Historians Will and Ariel Durant taught us that there are two groups that determine the rise or fall of civilizations, politicians and intellectuals, and once again our politicians have failed and we have only the intellectuals left to protect and perpetuate our democracy, and the human race.

      We have placed quality of life for our newest generations at gravest risk in history, our legacy is a total failure at this point, especially considering the out of control global warming destruction we are currently experiencing and we only have intellectuals to inform, educate and motivate us to protect our civilization at this point. Since intellectuals are defined as our best educated citizens, we have no other group to protect and perpetuate an acceptable quality of life for our newest generations.

      • After making several comments to this post, I have been forced to conclude that “intellectuals” are definitely living in a bubble, proving once again that Richard Hofstadter is still right about the fact that “intellectuals don’t want to take on the sort of complications and impurities that come with being public.”

        It is still an impossible dream to expect intellectuals to meet the challenges of change that the Durant’s proved are the paramount reason that our civilization shall also decline and fall, due to failures of both politicians and intellectuals today.

        As Eisenhower stated in his 1961 Farewell Address, the power of money is to be gravely regarded, and is the worst case scenario fact of life today.

  5. Excellent discussion Prof. Hochschild. Considering what is happening throughout the world, as reported daily, the paramount goal for us to achieve appears to be that we must all unite and focus on protecting and perpetuating our democracy, and the human race with the greatest sense of urgency.

    I would like to ask you to provide leadership to unite all scholars to expedite this effort by informing, educating and motivating the general public around the world to achieve these survival goals because global warming this year proves beyond all doubt the we are running out time and resources faster than ever predicted.

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