“We are a country divided.” That’s what the pundits and political observers would like us to believe.
For the last few decades, political scientists have documented this shift toward greater polarization. And yet, until just recently, the polarization of democratic politics was viewed as a mostly elite phenomenon, restricted to activists, pundits, and political professionals. Morris Fiorina, for instance, makes this case in Culture War: The Myth of A Polarized America. Pundits, politicians, and partisans are the ones who are polarized and at war, not ordinary citizens.
This elite theory of polarization no longer seems to be true. In a recent Pew Survey, researchers found a dramatic increase among non-political elites in the experience of stress and frustration when talking about politics. A record 53% of Americans now report talking about political issues as generally stressful and frustrating. Moreover, polling research by Pew also shows a marked increase in ideological division among ordinary citizens.
It’s easy to blame this escalation on polarizing figures on both sides of the aisle or the rise of popular information spaces…