#213: Political Fragmentation

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #213, on the subject of Political Fragmentation.

I have long been writing about political division, fragmentation, and polarization.  Quite a few years back I explained how our United States of America coalition government is created by people coming together into coalition-based parties, groups who do not agree entirely with each other but who agree to support each others’ important policies, and why the Republican dilemma (or the Democratic dilemma) is not solved by focusing on a single issue.  I’ve also written about the polarization developing as both parties are being more and more dominated by their extremists, and moderates no longer have a home anywhere.

Now I find a survey from the Pew Research Center which shows just how fragmented we are.  Well, I think that might be an exaggeration; I think we are probably more fragmented than the survey shows, but I’ll get to that.

You might want to begin by taking the quiz, a set of A/B choices (if memory serves, seventeen) on everything from immigration to taxation to social services by which they will place you in one of nine groups they have identified.  It will also, separately, place you on a rough scale from liberal to conservative.  I took it, and not surprisingly landed right of center (that is, the conservative direction) in the middle third.  However, the results apparently do not give us a bell curve.  As the attached image shows, the extreme groups, both conservative and liberal, are not only the largest within the general public, they are even more so the most active in politics.

I admit to not yet having read the full fourteen-page Pew Research Center article on its survey; I got through the first page and left the remainder for a time when I had more time.  You might find it easier, although less informative, to read the briefer article in the Detroit Free Press, although that is less about the groups and more about the fragmentation, the fact that were we to have the much-suggested second civil war most of us would be very uncertain on which side we should be fighting.  We just don’t have enough agreement on any specific issues.

That is perhaps why I think we are more fragmented than the survey analysis really shows.  My quiz results placed me in the category denoted “Country First Conservatives”, the smallest group on the chart but one which includes people ranging from barely left of center to fairly far to the right who have agreement on some issues.  What strikes me about this is I disagreed with the majority of people in this group on all questions of foreign policy (there were three) and government performance (there were two), and I would think those would be the defining issues of the group.  That is, were we to create a conservative party called “Country First”, we would expect that foreign policy would be at the top of its platform–but I would not support that platform, because I disagree with that policy.  That doesn’t mean that the analysis placing me in the moderately conservative group is wrong; it means that even these groups are more fragmented than the simplified results the survey demonstrates.

What it clearly does demonstrate is that “liberal” and “conservative” is not a simple scale but a generalization of scales on multiple issues, that both sides of the divide are built of people who really don’t agree on any one issue but work together toward similar goals, and that the people who are most active in politics, the large minorities on the extremes, seem very much unaware of the majority of more moderate people in the middle.

It also suggests that a moderate candidate on either side could probably defeat an extremist candidate on the other, simply because the people in the middle from both parties are more likely to identify with someone near the middle.

On the other hand there’s something to what Doc Brown said (paraphrasing):  when you can hold an entire television studio in the palm of your hand, it’s no wonder your President has to be an actor.  At least sometimes, style beats substance.

5 thoughts on “#213: Political Fragmentation”

  1. It strikes me that the Pew poll is incredibly simplistic. Now that may be due to the need to make it accessible to wide groups of people and keep it short enough so that people will actually complete it and recommend it to friends. Still, some of the questions, even though they say upfront they may be hard to answer, are a bit off, kind of like “are you still beating your wife,” off.

    It occurs to me that proper political classification needs to be something like the Briggs-Myers personality spectrum. You could gauge social, religious, economic, and civic aspects of ones outlook. Wish I had some skills in whatever realm that is that could create that poll.

  2. There’s this article on Vox : http://vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/11/2/16588964/america-epistemic-crisis that basically says that people have now abandoned their critical mind (or push it too far), and so they won’t do the necessary step, or calculation one-subject-after-the-other that you do, to “cross the floor” – so to say – and support the moderate candidate of the other side.
    In the last Presidential race, Clinton appeared as the candidate of the establishment, the continuity, and should have attracted moderate republicans’ votes. But either those couldn’t turn their minds into that, or they thought the maverick show would be fun to laugh at.

    1. Hillary had substantial deficits.
      1. Huge amounts of criminality. Now, I expect most pols to be corrupt, but they went further. No one talks about ‘Obama-icide’, but they do about Arkancide.
      2. She was, and is sick. That’s always been a concern of ours about Presidents. Reagan deflected Mondale with a joke, and McCain suffered partially because people were worried that his torture had affected him physically (which is an honorable thing for McCain, but a reasonable worry for voters.) Obama and Bill, OTOH, were not sick. But Bill nowadays could not win because he is sick now.
      3. Hard for moderates to go over to the other side when the other side called them ‘deplorables’.

      Bernie might have won. This was an election for outsiders. A lot of us considered DC to be an enemy, a threat, and we voted to destroy it. Others, the more moderate voted as I’ve read many, many times because Trump was not Hillary.

      MJ, I don’t think this division the Pew poll came up with is that useful. I do agree we are fragmented.

      1. Eric, your criteria #3 is probably irrelevant, since Trump called names on Hillary, democrats, his republican competitors, people with disabilities, and countless other… and was still elected. ;D

  3. Ah, both of my Eric friends are responding. Let’s try not to confuse them.

    Eric V, I agree about the questions. For some I thought both were true, while for others I’d have preferred to say neither. Perhaps a scaled response would have been better, preferably with an odd number so you could put yourself directly in the center.

    More significantly, though, when I was doing political coverage in my radio days I recognized the “other pole” in issues: how important is this issue to you? “Concerning this question, I believe X, but I don’t know that it much matters and certainly wouldn’t fight for that.” Some of the questions almost inadvertently caught that (asking whether this is a problem or not), but others did not.

    Regis, thanks for the link. I don’t know whether you saw, way back when the blog was still new, http://www.mjyoung.net/weblog/index.php/10-the-unimportance-of-facts/ #10: The Unimportance of Facts, which discusses some of this epistemological difficulty.

    Part of the problem of crossing the floor to support the opposing side’s “moderate” candidate lies in the issues. I was always independent; my parents were independents. We tended to support moderate candidates in any election (and people like us probably contributed to the popular view in the mid sixties through mid eighties that there was no difference between the parties, as candidates attempted to cater to the middle). In the present, I don’t vote for Democrats because the party has specific planks in their platform that I find morally repugnant, and even if a particular candidate is not a strong supporter of those positions I’m aware that giving the Democrats control of any area of government increases the support for those positions. I like Democratic policy on quite a few issues, but as I suggested in my comments to Eric V, those aren’t the important ones to me.

    Eric A, I agree that Hillary was the biggest problem for the Democrats. You might remember post #125: My Presidential Election Fears http://www.mjyoung.net/weblog/index.php/125-my-presidential-election-fears/ in which I talk about which candidate I more feared. A lot of people were afraid of her. On the other hand, a lot of people were afraid of Trump, too.

    Ultimately, though, it seems that we all agree that the categories created by the Pew survey don’t seem to be very good. On the other hand, if we are as fragmented as I think we are, they might be the best categories available.

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