#Connections: Our Perception Gap and Why Connections are Important
July 9, 2019
My daughter recently sent me a link to an interesting study by a group called More in Common, partnered with research firm You Gov, about our political perceptions. (See “The Perception Gap” at https://perceptiongap.us.) After surveying 2100 Americans, they found that most Americans have “a deeply distorted understanding of each other. Overall, Democrats and Republicans imagine almost twice as many of their political opponents as reality hold views they consider “extreme”. Even on the most controversial issues in our national debates, Americans are less divided than most of us think. This is good news for those worried about the character of this country. The majority of Americans hold views that may not be so different from your own.” Here are some findings:
The survey asked Republicans and Democrats to estimate the other party members’ views on several subjects such as racism, sexism, and immigration. The estimated proportion of Republicans and Democrats holding extreme views was 55%. The actual proportion holding extreme views was 30%. The study found that “the most partisan, politically active Americans – a group we call the “Wings” – have deeply distorted perceptions of the other side. The two groups with the widest Perception Gaps are the Progressive Activists and the Devoted Conservatives—the most ideological and committed groups of Democrats and Republicans.”
This is partly due to the media sources that these groups access. “Some news sources are associated with larger Perception Gaps, in particular Breitbart, Drudge Report and popular talk radio programs such as Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. But large Perception Gaps are also associated with liberal sources such as Huffington Post and the Daily Kos. Only one media source is associated with better understanding other Americans’ views: the traditional television networks of ABC, NBC and CBS. Overall, these findings suggest that media is adding to a polarization ecosystem that is driving Americans apart.”
This reminds me of Vanessa Otero’s Media Bias Chart that I posted about last year. (See the link to the chart here: https://www.adfontesmedia.com.) This More in Common study reinforces the concept that is important to use your critical thinking skills and use unbiased media. There are also correlations with education, friendship diversity, and social media. If we only associate with people who have certain views, we’re more likely to make assumptions about others that are not true.
The good news is, we can turn this around. As the study concludes, “Each of us can play a role in bridging the Perception Gap. We can choose a wider range of news sources to better understand different perspectives. We can refuse to be manipulated into outrage by reducing our exposure to social media feeds that amplify the views of the partisan Wings, rather than the Exhausted Majority. And finally, we can seek to build connections with people who think differently from us. Directly engaging with people whose experiences and views differ from our own makes it harder for us to see them as the enemy.
But individual action will likely not be enough. Civility alone will not resolve our disagreements or overcome the deep challenges that we need to address. That is because our analysis reveals a powerful polarization ecosystem that thrives off of outrage and division. Traditional media, social media platforms, friend networks, political candidates and consultants benefit from dividing Americans, exaggerating disagreements and inciting conflict. These forces of division must be held to account. In their place, we need to galvanize a larger ecosystem of local and national solutions that can bring us together and address the causes of our division.
A healthy democracy will always have some disagreement and conflict; it’s a necessary component of progress. But democracy also requires a sense of shared values and commitments, and a willingness to find common ground. This study suggests that there is more such territory than many imagine. By understanding our Perception Gaps, working to overcome our mistrust of the other side, and resisting the forces that seek to divide us, we can advance towards a future that we all want.”
I encourage you to read the whole More in Common study here: https://perceptiongap.us. You can even take The Perception Gap Quiz on their site to see if your perceptions are accurate.
Let’s make connections with our friends and neighbors. It’s important for ourselves, and for our democracy.