The story you've heard doesn't stand up to the data
It seems like maybe the actual story here is, “yet another alarming narrative advanced by ostensibly reputable sources is not nearly as alarming as it sounds “
Thank you for uncovering all these problems with reporting. Personally I try to keep my animosity for "the other side" low, because I think treating others with disrespect only serves to further entrench them in their mindset. Or perhaps a better way to put that is that I try to treat people with respect whether or not I respect their opinion. Respect is both a feeling and an action, after all, and keeping that straight is extremely valuable. And it is so true that hate hurts the hater more than the hated. Great post!
While I generally agree with the points here about general political animus not causing an increase in violence and think "sometimes polarization is good" is a vastly underrated take, that January 6th graph is from January 2021. Since then I think polarization has really transformed the popular narrative surrounding it in a way that is actually a red flag for future political violence. While large majorities still hold mainstream factual views about the event, depending on the time period and question wording between 20 and 30% of Americans think it was a legitimate political protest/protecting democracy. I guess I take the point that the data points to a historically precedented extremist movement instead of like a coming civil war, but if polarization means one side (or more accurately a quarter of the country) can't agree that those extremists exist and are actually committing violence, that is definitely better than the alternative but still pretty alarming.
Well written and great information. Thanks for this post, Adam.
Right on Adam
Social & legacy media, isn’t it. Paints an unrepresentative picture.
Great insight; I really wish I heard more people making these points. For the past few years I’ve really gotten into reading more history, both recent-ish (Days of Rage, about the 70s bombings), and older/larger topics like Italian fascism or, uhh, Stalin and the gulags (not everything I read is such a downer, I swear). The more I learn about the past, the better perspective I have about the present. I think that’s a huge point (which you make in your piece) - if you think that history started in 2016, everything is really shocking and horrible, but in a larger context it really isn’t.
What a remarkable piece. Very much a ‚shock of the old‘ and i cannot applaud it enough. Thank you!
> How much should we hate each other?
As much as a lover's quarrel. Or in more technical jargon, John Gottman's golden ratio of about 5:1. Whine a little, not a lot.
As Mark Twain said (citing Benjamin Disraeli), "there are 3 kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." I'd prefer to know more about the stats cited and the methodology behind them before forming an opinion. But thank for bringing them up for scrutiny.
Great article. Thank you for sharing.
"...fifty years ago, Protestants did not hate Catholics, Christians did not hate Jews..."
When I read I hear the words in my head, generally. In this case the words just sort of ran into the side of my head - splat - and sat out there, unable to get in. What universe did you inhabit fifty, or sixty years ago? It was sure different than the one I lived in. A sizeable number of Christians didn't hate Jews since the late nineteenth century culminating in WW2? Not all, certainly, but - really? Catholics and Protestants didn't hate each other in Ireland? I don't know that I can agree with any of that.
About some of your data: seems like all of it is likely infested with confounding variables which are/were probably impossible to compensate for. The religious "feeling thermometer" graph has all three so close together and trending exactly the same over that period that it looks to me like whatever they were measuring is very much lacking in sensitivity to what they are trying to measure and that it is infected with some overall bias rather than exhibiting real information. It reminds me of an observation made by a research MD on the Sensible Medicine substack that whenever you see data where the variation in the thing you are trying to measure is less than the variation between when it is present and when it is absent, you are almost always looking at missing confounding influences.
The graph of the average number of times encountering incivility in a week could *easily* be explained by the fact that nearly everyone reports in increasing degree of social self-sorting and of learning to refrain from political commentary in settings where it isn't possible. I had a conversation with my daughter yesterday where in she was concerned that by merely bringing up a particular subject which seemed apolitical to her among friends whose politics significantly differed from hers that she might be "outting herself" because she'd discovered that searching Google for this topic only brought up hardcore polemical website sources and her friends might thereby assume she frequents these to have heard of the topic at all. In 2012 would this have been a consideration of anyone?
Arguing about politics with people has become so divisive that most people eschew it. That table is probably showing nothing more than self-sorting. Of course, they're not arguing as much. It's more dangerous now. The same with the "ending friendships" graph. Another explanation is that they aren't forming them with other-political people in the first place. I'm really kind of surprised that these kinds of confounders weren't at least mentioned. Almost every one of your evidence graphs look to me like they can be explained by self-sorting which has changed demonstrably over the last two generations.
The January 6th poll is the only one I believe - and it's the only one that I can't think of several major confounders for. But the low voter turnouts could easily represent the feeling of general helplessness and sense that votes don't seem to make any difference anymore that I hear people expressing all around me. Surprisingly, even when they seem to be on the winning side of issues.
I really wish what you are saying in this essay were true. But I do not think it is.
Thanks for this piece - I sort of needed a shot of reality/optimism.
Agee with the sentiment of the article. However Bill gates should never be quoted unless the subject is one of his specialties (installing malicious code to sabotage competition, or repurposing freeware for personal gain.)
Political polarization is a good thing.