by Chris Bowers, Mon Mar 12, 2007 at 11:59:16 AM EDT
When Reeder and his colleagues asked pro-war and antiwar Americans how they would describe the other side's motives, the researchers found that the groups suffered from an identical bias: People described others who agreed with them as motivated by ethics and principle, but felt that the people who disagreed with them were motivated by narrow self-interest.(...)All of the polite, "serious" people in the established punditry are regularly shocked--shocked, I say!--at just how unbelievably angry we blog denizens are. What I think few of them realize is that when people online react to politics with open anger, bitterness, regular questions of the motives of those who disagree with you, endless claims of bias, they are acting like normal Americans. Despite all of the calls for bi-partisanship, civil discourse from both pundits and people who respond to polls alike, the truth is that most Americans don't act in a bi-partisan and civil way when it comes to politics. No one gets the benefit of the doubt anymore. No one has an honest disagreement--you opponents have a hidden agenda, are stupid, uninformed, blind to reality, etc. That is just how most people think. When it comes out online, then that is the real America, not some idyllic land of civil discourse and bi-partisanship.
When Reeder asked the pro-war and antiwar volunteers whether they thought Bush had a hidden motive, the numbers flipped. Only 11 percent of the supporters of the president and the war said they could see a hidden agenda, whereas 50 percent of the people who opposed the war said it was plain as day that Bush had a hidden (and nefarious) motive.(...)
Another study found that liberals and conservatives not only overestimate their opponents' partisan motives on questions such as abortion and same-sex marriage but also overestimate the partisan motives of people on their own side.
"Partisans within ideological groups tended to view themselves as atypical vis-a-vis their group: atypical in their moderation, in their freedom from bias, and in their capacity to 'see things as they are in reality' even when that reality proves to be ideologically inconvenient or 'politically incorrect,' " Harvard Business School researcher Robert J. Robinson and his colleagues concluded.
People often blame our polarized political world on politicians in Washington. The truth is, the rising division in our society goes far deeper than simply a class of political professionals. It has deeply impacted the way most people think on a day-to-day basis. I don't know if one is a symptom of the other, as that is a real chicken and egg discussion. However, this polling shows once again that calls for greater civility and bipartisanship are akin to Ted Haggard denouncing homosexuality and drug use. Most Americans like to think that is how they personally act, and they want to believe that the rancor in Washington is somehow unreflective of them personally, but the truth is that we live in a country of closeted, projecting "partisan polarizers," as Lieberman likes to say. Establishment pundits would be a lot better off if, like us bloggers, they had to deal with those popular sentiments everyday. The entire country might be better off if we all came out of the closet, and stopped pretending that we are something we are not. Most people are angry when it comes to politics these days, and with damn good reason. Admitting that might be the first step toward productive discussion.