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Americans overestimate political polarization
A new study finds that most Americans misunderstand the divide of political attitudes within the country. Political polarization is the way people perceive the gap between the country’s population along party lines.
University of Colorado Boulder Psychology Professor Leaf Van Boven conducted two separate studies concluding that as partisan attitudes increase, so do perceptions of political polarization. These results can be seen right here in Boulder.
It is a common stereotype that Boulder is a liberal city. For instance, during the 2008 presidential election, 72% of voters cast their ballot for Obama. What people don’t realize is the student population in the city is far more diverse.
CU’s College Republicans held their first meeting of the new year last week, filled with determination and hope for change, come the 2012 presidential election.
“I will root for whatever candidate has the best chance of beating Barack Obama,” said College Republicans Treasurer Brian Ruddle.
The group said they have been less active since Obama took office, but are excited to make their voice heard in a seemingly liberal community during the upcoming months.
“We are a voice and an outlet for conservative students on campus,” said College Republican President Mitchell Whitus.
Professor Van Boven’s findings show that most people see Americans, specifically Republicans and Democrats, as more polarized than they actually are.
“(College) is a time of really coming to realize what your perceptions of polarization are, what your own attitudes are towards political partisan issues,” said Professor Van Boven.
Brian Ruddle is doing just that.
“The ‘R’ or the ‘D,’ it means nothing to me, unless they’re willing to help business, help me expand my horizons,” said Ruddle.
Although the majority of Americans are less polarized than some people think, government officials tend to be the exception.
According to the study, people with strong partisans and extreme attitudes are more likely to vote, participate in campaigns and run for office, because they see a greater divide between Americans.
“This is potentially worrisome, in the sense that the people who are most involved in campaigns are actually the least accurate in their perceptions of what Americans are like,” said Van Boven.
These findings actually help us to understand government actions better. Democrats and Republicans see themselves as separate and competing groups, rather than a unified team working towards the same goal. They often times don’t see eye to eye on key issues.
“The irony is that seeing the groups as far apart actually creates the competition that makes it difficult to get done the things you need to get done,” said Van Boven.
A similar study at the University of Florida by psychology professor John Chambers also found that those who perceive greater polarization are more likely to participate politically, but that this could have an important effect on elections.
In close contests, the party whose members perceive greater polarization may be more likely to win, because its members are more likely to vote.