Americans Agree More Than They Realize

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An exaggerated emphasis on differences obscures the degree to which Americans still agree

October 23, 2017

Some days, it can seem as if half the country has come down with rabies. A lot of people seem willing to tear your head off over the smallest thing.

Part of it probably comes from the disinhibiting effect of social media—where the lack of filters or personal contact makes it easy to fire off a nasty personal attack in the heat of the moment... which only encourages people to respond in kind.

Part of it probably comes from the fact that Americans increasingly sort themselves into like-minded communities. That means they're less apt to get to know people who think differently, and therefore less likely to understand where they're coming from.

Part of it might be attribution error: I cut you off in traffic because I'm late for a meeting; you cut me off in traffic because you're a big fat jerk. I support my candidate because I've studied the issues; you support yours because the candidate lied to you and you bought it.

Part of the reason also could be simple weariness. Many people these days might be suffering from what addiction specialist Abraham Twerski has called "emotional sunburn." A physical sunburn makes you hypersensitive to minor physical affronts, such as getting bumped in an elevator. An emotional sunburn works the same way with other kinds of affronts.

And part of it also probably has to do with the fact that both parties have grown more extreme in recent years. Congressional Republicans certainly have. Congressional Democrats tend to be more moderate, relatively speaking. But among the public at large, "the overall share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades," the Pew Research Center reported three years ago. A more recent study from earlier this month produced similar results.

Left and right are pulling further and further apart. Both sides look at the other and wonder, "What in God's name is wrong with those jerks?"

Many media outlets only make matters worse. Take a look at The Daily Caller or The Huffington Post—watch a late-night comic or tune into cable "news"—and you will be presented with an endless litany of outrages committed by Those Awful People.

This is, unfortunately, a successful business model. It works because it ratifies the viewers' existing prejudices and makes them feel superior. Nothing like a little dopamine squirt to brighten your day.

But this exaggerated emphasis on differences obscures the degree to which Americans still agree. And on some topics, the public is of one mind, or as close to that as you can get. A few examples:

Universal background checks. Nine out of 10 Americans think a background check should be required for every firearm purchase. That includes three-fourths of all NRA members.

Dreamers. These are undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as young children, grew up here, and have little or no connection to their countries of origin. Eighty-five percent of Americans agree that they should not be deported.

Civil asset forfeiture. This practice allows the police to confiscate property—cash, cars, homes—from people they suspect might be involved in criminal activity, even if the individual is never even charged with a crime, let alone convicted. Across the ideological spectrum, 84 percent of Americansdisapprove of the practice.

Medical marijuana. Eighty-three percent of Americans agree that doctors should be able to prescribe cannabis for their patients.

Extremist bigotry. Eighty-three percent of Americans think it's unacceptable to hold neo-Nazi or white-supremacist views. Nine percent think it's OK, and 8 percent aren't sure (!).

Sanctuary cities. In contrast to attitudes on Dreamers, 80 percent of American voters disapprove of sanctuary cities and agree that local authorities should report illegal immigrants to federal authorities.

Photo Credit: Foter.com

A. Barton Hinkle is senior editorial writer and a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  • Michael Schmid|10.23.17 @ 12:09PM|#

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  • Fist of Etiquette|10.23.17 @ 12:30PM|#

    I disagree.

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  • Rhywun|10.23.17 @ 12:14PM|#

    And part of it also probably has to do with the fact that both parties have grown more extreme in recent years. Congressional Republicans certainly have. Congressional Democrats tend to be more moderate, relatively speaking.

    I have no idea which universe's Congress this is referring to. I can pull charts saying the exact opposite, and which don't come from WaPo either.

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  • NotAnotherSkippy|10.23.17 @ 12:22PM|#

    It's an easy conclusion to reach once you accept that obamacare is a moderate, centrist program, and that 73% favor renewables at the same time that EV sales are going nowhere.

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  • ToCa81|10.23.17 @ 12:17PM|#

    When the proles are busy fighting with each other, they tend to overlook all the crimes being committed by the ruling class. Typically a foreign enemy has been used to distract the masses, but they have just turned us against ourselves to great effect. It's sad, but quite genius in a way.

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  • lap83|10.23.17 @ 12:17PM|#

    Extremist bigotry. Eighty-three percent of Americans think it's unacceptable to hold neo-Nazi or white-supremacist views. Nine percent think it's OK, and 8 percent aren't sure (!).

    So only nine percent are Republicans? Wow, Hillary got even more of the popular vote than I realized

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  • Rhywun|10.23.17 @ 12:22PM|#

    Alternative energy: 73 percent of Americans want energy policy to favor alternatives over oil and gas.

    I went to the link, didn't see how the question was phrased, and noted that it's based on cold-calling. Who on earth responds to these?

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  • Libertymike|10.23.17 @ 12:30PM|#

    Why the fuss over unity or lack thereof?

    Unity, schmunity.

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  • $park¥ leftist poser|10.23.17 @ 12:31PM|#

    I'm right and you're wrong because SHUT UP!

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