Right On: There are more than just 2 tribes driving our political divide

Stock image, St. George News

OPINION — Are about half of Americans on one side of today’s political divide and half on the other?

No, says a recent report from More In Common, an initiative intent on strengthening the center.

The organization produced a report last fall titled “The Hidden Tribes of America” that outlined an eye-opening perspective into the “tribes” driving our political polarization.

Until about a decade ago, both Democrats and Republicans tended toward the center searching for votes and power. In the process, they adopted many of each other’s positions. The center-left accepted globalization and deregulation, the center-right the welfare state. Both supported immigration.

The report shows that most of us continue to have mixed views and are ready to accept compromise solutions on major issues.

However voters with strongly-held views on both extremes were dissatisfied with their options and began to exert increasing control over their respective parties’ directions.

The report identifies seven groupings. It calls them from left to right: progressive activists, traditional liberals, passive liberals, politically disengaged, moderates, traditional conservatives and devoted conservatives.

Few readers of this column will find themselves in the largest of these groups: the politically disengaged. But on reflection, the fact that 26 percent of Americans spend little or no time thinking about politics and policy isn’t surprising.

Unexpected was the finding that the two smallest groups were the ones on the extremes. Yet these two groups have the largest influence on today’s politics.

Progressive activists and devoted conservatives are the richest and most privileged of all the groups. They have the highest education levels and they are the whitest of all the groups.

The report finds that for them “American politics is no longer about what health care plan you support. It’s about identity, psychology, moral foundations and the dynamics of tribal resentment.”

They see the world in distinctive and very different ways. Compare their views on some of today’s most controversial issues:

Sexual harassment: 91 percent of progressive activists believe it is common; only 12 percent of devoted conservatives agree.

Racism: 92 percent of progressive activists say people don’t take racism seriously enough; only 6 percent of devoted conservatives agree.

Immigration: 99 percent of progressive activists think immigration is good; 90 percent of devoted conservatives think it’s bad.

Islam: Only 3 percent of progressive activists think Islam is more violent than other religions; 76 percent of devoted conservatives disagree.

Life’s outcomes: 86 percent of progressive activists say outcomes are outside individual control; only 2 percent of devoted conservatives believe that.

Three times as many progressive activists are ashamed to be Americans as are average citizens.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all the above is group-think in both tribes. Across a wide range of questions from child rearing to national anthem protests, 97-99 percent of progressive activists gave the same response. Devoted conservatives gave the opposite response 93-95 percent of the time.

As depressing as the extremes are, there is good news among those closer to the center. Outside of the polar opposites, there is a lot more flexibility and independent thought. This fact is hidden when voters are forced to choose one or the other extreme.

About two-thirds of Americans are what the report’s authors call “the exhausted majority.” These folks say we all need to listen more and be willing to compromise. About 80 percent say political correctness is a problem; ditto for hate speech.

The report’s findings correlate with my own limited observations.

I see a disheartening sameness among leading Democratic politicians. Their policy prescriptions all would drag their party and the country leftward toward progressive activist dogma. Heard any one of their leading presidential contenders offer alternatives to single-payer health care or free college tuition?

Progressive activists are calling all Democratic Party shots these days, leaving the Democratic center with nowhere else to turn. Hence former Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz, a lifelong liberal Democrat, is considering a presidential run as an independent.

The Republican Party has its devoted conservative wing: the Freedom Caucus, née Tea Party. This extreme wing influences party policies and must be accommodated, but unlike the Democrat’s progressive activists, it does not set the party’s agenda.

Those who would take issue with that last statement are most likely unable to name more than one or two members of the Freedom Caucus, none of whom has a major leadership position in Congress.

But Republicans are plagued with a major division between their establishment and nationalist wings. The establishment wing is focused on economic growth and the international trade that facilitates it. The nationalist wing, epitomized by President Trump, has an isolationist bent, eschewing foreign entanglements whenever possible.

I see myself as a traditional conservative of the establishment variety, not a so-called devoted conservative. I have focused on the economic progress that Republicans have made over the last two years and see robust economic growth as a rising tide lifting all boats.

Unlike devoted conservatives, I strongly support increased legal immigration and international trade agreements like Obama’s Trans Pacific Partnership. I have praised both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton for their willingness to support compromise solutions to difficult problems.

Is More in Common the answer? I don’t know them well enough to endorse them outright. But I certainly applaud their goals.

Paraphrasing Karl Marx, Americans of the center unite! You have nothing to lose but the extremes!

Howard Sierer is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.


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