Are liberals more popular than conservative Americans

United States

Lilliana Mason

To person

is Professor in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research interests include political psychology, party affiliation and identity, as well as religion and politics. [email protected]

In my book "Uncivil Agreement" I describe a strange phenomenon in US politics. [1] As unlikely as it sounds, the electorate largely agrees on the policies that need to be taken to advance the overall good of the nation. Majorities in both Democratic and Republican voters are in favor of substantial spending to mitigate the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and to initiate new transport infrastructure projects. [2] 93 percent of the supporters: inside the Democrats and 82 percent of the supporters: inside the Republicans advocate background checks on private arms purchases and sales at arms fairs. [3] Even on controversial issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, most Americans' opinions are closer to the middle of the spectrum on the inside than on the fringes.

In my analysis of data from the 2016 American National Election Study, [4] which asked respondents to share their views on immigration, the Affordable Care Act (the federal law on patient protection and "affordable" care, often called "Obamacare") on abortion, same-sex marriage, government spending and gun control, the opinion pendulum swung among the supporters: inside the Republicans as a whole to the left of center - as well as those of the Democrats, who were even further to the left. In general, the American electorate represents progressive political attitudes - which supposedly creates a broad scope for working together on a progressive agenda.

At the same time, Republican and Democratic supporters downright hate each other, and those who call themselves "conservatives" despise those who call themselves "liberals", even if those "conservatives" adopt progressive political positions . [5] Worse still, Republican MPs are unwilling to approve bills that reflect this broad consensus. I will explain the reason for this later; First of all, it is important to make it clear that President Joe Biden is dealing with widely differing views of what this is to be understood when he calls for "unity" of the nation.

The first type of "unity" Biden seeks to establish, and which is most discussed in current politics, is bipartisanshipwhich means bipartisanism or a policy supported by both parties. This is what many Republican elected officials are demanding. [6] In this type of unity, Biden must get Republican MPs to join his progressive political agenda. This is extremely unlikely, however, because the more progress the government makes in meeting the needs of the American people, the more popular Biden will become. Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republican parliamentary group in the Senate, once famously said during Obama's administration: "The most important thing we want to achieve is that President Obama does not win a second term." [7] Even though he admitted that in the same interview one could work together if Obama made a different policy, that was the common approach of the Republican MPs - blocking legislation rather than helping to shape it. Trend-setting and helpful legislative proposals were often prevented in order to damage the reputation of those top democratic politicians who tried to implement progressive and popular measures.

Since it already seems clear that top Republican officials will not support Biden's legislative agenda, we come to the second type of "unity" that Biden seems to favor at the moment: namely, bringing Americans together by enacting policies that Find widespread approval and provide urgently needed aid in a time of crisis. So he could focus on the bills most Americans support and see it as the consensus of a broad electorate. That type of unity would be a far more productive goal - Biden would ignore those who are trying to undo his efforts and focus instead on the Americans themselves. The American people need help, and the government is - contrary to all incantations by the Republican party elite - the most efficient tool for getting help.

So, if President Biden wants to unite the nation and bridge the deep rifts, his first job is to pass laws that are popular with voters, not his Republican counterparts. However, he faces a number of significant challenges.

Lack of incentive for Republicans to govern effectively

Grover Norquist, an influential Republican adviser, said: "I don't want to abolish the government, I just want to reduce it to such a size that I could drag it into the bathroom and drown in the bathtub." [8] The Republican The party seems to have come close to that goal - it ran a 2020 presidential campaign with literally no party program, and it has tried to counter a pandemic by doing next to nothing and instead letting the individual states take care of themselves . The question therefore arises: How can this type of non-government attract voters?

First Republicans and self-declared conservatives generally have less confidence in government. Republican President Ronald Reagan once said: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help."(" I'm with the government, and I'm here to help. ") [9] Over the past few decades, the Republican Party has taken the position that the federal government is not to be trusted and that it is doing a bad job , and it has no place in the lives of normal Americans. This is a logical conclusion when you consider that the party has enacted legislative measures that have in fact made the federal government little more of a role in the lives of Americans, so that they can Feeling isolated and ignored - if Americans: inside then but If they need help from the federal government, the Republican Party assures them that it will not be there for them, which confirms the belief that the government is ineffective - it is a vicious circle. The more ineffective the new government, the more support the Republican Party is likely to gain from it.

Secondly Republicans do not have to win majorities in the electorate to control the government. Republican politics need not be broadly popular because of non-majority institutions such as the Electoral College and Senate, in which the votes of rural Americans are disproportionately weighted. It just needs to address the extreme fringes of the party base, whose voices are de facto more powerful than the voices of the Democrats. That brings us to the Republican party base - this is the next problem Biden faces.

Social Sorting and White Supremacy

One of my main goals in Uncivil Agreement was to explain how it can be that Americans can have such a great general consensus on political positions within, while at the same time having such bitter conflicts between the parties. The basic answer to that question was a combination of psychological theory and what I call "social sorting".

The psychological element is derived from the theory of social identity developed by Henri Tajfel and John Turner in the 1970s and 80s. [10] Accordingly, each person belongs to a large number of social groups, and these group affiliations help us to understand the world and our place in it. At the same time, we strive to consider our own group to be superior to other groups and to take appropriate measures to secure the high status of our group. In the United States, the Democratic and Republican Parties not only function as political organizing instruments, but also form social identities. Party members feel a social bond with their respective parties and strive to defend the relative status of these parties. [11] Status competitions take place at least every two years in the form of elections, and these usually have the effect that party supporters: incited inside and fall into a wagon-castle mentality of "us against them" - a zero-sum game.

Everything is made worse by the fact that there is another development that strengthens the ties of Americans to their respective party: In the past few decades, the social composition of the members of both parties has changed. In the 1970s, the members of both parties were still influenced by different social forces. That means, for example, you belonged to some religious or ethnic group, were also a member of a neighborhood club and a local gym - and the other people you met in those circles were a good mix of Democrats and Republicans. You may have been a member of a particular party yourself, but in some way you were socially connected to members of the other party. This social networking with the political competition can be called cross pressures and they make polarization and intolerance less likely. [12] Over time this has cross pressures decreased, and Democrats and Republicans developed in terms of religion, race, Geography and culture apart. This "social sorting" gave them fewer opportunities to meet partisans: inside the other side, and they became increasingly intolerant and hateful towards these outgroup party members; Competitiveness, prejudice and anger increased.

Especially along the category race the gap between the parties has widened. The Republican Party is increasingly made up of white, Christian, and rural Americans, while the Democratic Party has become increasingly ethnically and religiously diverse. One of the most important features of the party political rifts today is a profound disagreement about the existence and continuity of the traditional social hierarchy. Do white men wield most of the power in American society? Should they? If not, what should be done about it? America has never been particularly good at providing answers to these questions without causing severe social upheaval - which at one point even led to civil war. In addition, many Republican voters will not blame their party for government failures as long as it is able to continue to focus their grassroots attention on these extremely divisive issues.

These are the problems President Biden faces in trying to unite a divided country. He faces extremes racial divides versus an opposing party ready to exploit these divisions on an already troubled electoral field, and an electorate who has been led to believe that the government is incapable of solving big problems.

Common identity?

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I joked with readers that an alien invasion could finally unite Democrats and Republicans in the public interest. I don't believe that anymore today. The global spread of the coronavirus was the closest thing to a life-threatening invasion that could unite all people against an outside threat. But in the United States, the pandemic was politicized almost immediately - Republicans inside denied the severity (or even the existence) of the threat, while Democrats put on masks, kept their distance from one another, and adhered to the rules of conduct that were scientifically recommended to do so Fight virus.

The reason for this discrepancy can be found in the scientific literature on intergroup conflict and identity. The social psychologist Marilynn Brewer outlined in an article in 1999 the possibilities and obstacles to an agreement of groups in the event of a conflict. One way to reduce intergroup conflicts is to focus on a unifying, superordinate group identity for both groups and to become one together to face common threat. However, Brewer also described some conditions under which a threat to this overarching identity could have the opposite effect, i.e. the individual groups could be driven further apart. These conditions included, among other things, a politicized lack of trust between the competing groups: In this case "the perceived common threat (...) increases the cohesion and loyalty of the ingroup; appeals to ingroup interests have greater legitimacy than those to personal self-interest." [ 13]

So when two groups facing the same threat do not trust each other, they can become even more divided as they hide behind their respective ingroup identities to defend their own group - even if it comes at a personal price. In this scenario, once the Covid-19 threat became politicized, Democrats and Republicans never had a chance to cooperate - their political conflict always had to steer them in different directions.

But perhaps there is another way to find new ways of bridging party political divides in American politics. Instead of looking at current challenges, it might make sense to take the reverse approach and look at the deeper roots of these trenches.

Dealing with racism

In some respects it can also be seen as a positive development that the parties have split along "racial" lines. Sure, this type of split has fueled much of the current hostility and hatred in American politics. But that does not mean that the alternative is preferable.

In fact, white Southern Democrats began to turn their backs on the Democratic Party in the course of a generation under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 - which removed significant discrimination against blacks and other minorities Republicans to switch. During this process there was little polarization in American party politics because there was a similar combination in both parties white supremacists, Racism deniers: inside and racially progressive whites. As long as the factor race was ignored, compromises were possible.

But the United States is long overdue to come to terms with its long history of racist violence and injustice, particularly against blacks, that has continued to this day. Much of this story is not taught in American schools: the great success and violent end of the Reconstruction, that phase of political reorganization after the Civil War of 1861-1865, the informal and solemn nature of the lynchings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the persistence and effectiveness of white terrorism against the successes of blacks - most American students: inside withhold this knowledge. Only recently have white Americans come to realize through numerous "evidence videos" that the police in black communities do not behave as they do in white communities. [14] So much of the racism that black Americans experience every day is hidden from, or ignored by, the whites. This ignorance serves to maintain white supremacy and allows America's history of structural racism to continue even when its existence is actively denied by Republican spokesmen. [15]

Biden's plan to address the issue of "racial inequality" includes a commitment to increasing educational opportunities for Black Americans. This is important.For the unification of the nation, however, it would also be helpful to educate white Americans about the whole history of racist violence and injustice in America and to encourage them to redress the injustices that have been done many times over.

Do not depolarize, but democratize

Ultimately, it will be crucial for Biden not to interpret "unity" as "depolarization". As a polarization researcher, I don't believe that polarization itself is the main problem in American politics. Polarization is a symptom of the main problem, and that is the anti-democratic stance that is increasingly widespread within the Republican Party. If one party is moving towards fascism, we shouldn't expect the other to do the same in the interests of depolarization. On the contrary: polarization is even desirable in this case. Nevertheless, it is important to deal with the anti-democratic forces.

This problem is not independent of the issues related to race. In fact, it is arguably a direct result of the increasingly racialized divide between the parties. The powers of white supremacy have always viewed full democracy as a disastrous threat and continue to strive to make voting as difficult and dangerous as possible for Black Americans. [16] Even today, Republican officials across the country are still trying to make voting more difficult. [17]

President Biden will have to concentrate on the political measures that Americans need and the majority want in order to help all equally. A fully egalitarian, multi-ethnic democracy is currently not within reach for the USA - Biden's only chance to unite America is therefore to consistently align its legislative proposals with the majority will of the Americans. If he succeeds with his agenda, he would show that the government can and does help its citizens. Potentially, any success could increase general confidence in the government, and thereby cool sentiment in American politics. However, this will also require a serious movement within the Republican Party that resolutely opposes the policy of racist resentment. As long as the Republicans distract their base with racialized claims to their own white victim role, the Republican electorate could ignore any success of the Biden administration - or even react to it with even more hatred, since many are apparently less oriented towards the greater good of the nation, but rather on "who gets what".

Translation from the American: Peter Beyer, Bonn.