Elephants and Donkeys Are Killing The United States: Why We Need Political Diversity

Reduce threatening interactions. Think about the last time that you had a serious argument with someone and told them they were 100% wrong. Whether it was your friend, child, parent, or romantic partner, odds are that they immediately went on the defensive, the argument escalated, and nothing positive was resolved. Why do we think this tactic will work with opposing partisans we don’t know personally, when it doesn’t even work with our closest friends and family who care about us? Only by showing respect for our debate partner and acknowledging that their feelings and beliefs are a part of the conversation can we begin to bridge the partisan gap. By fostering positive social interactions between partisans, interventions based in social psychology’s Intergroup Contact Theory have successfully decreased demonization of outgroup members and increased intergroup cooperation (Allport, 1954; Iyer, 2016; Pettigrew & Trope, 2006).

Appeal to emotions and perspective take. Most people, and certainly more U.S. citizens, regardless of political stance, have the same life goals that we do but believe in different ways of achieving those goals.  The best way to be attentive to your own biases while also persuading someone who disagrees with you is to employ perspective-taking. Understanding the basis of your opponent’s argument helps you to both show that you are able to see the issue from their side and to tailor your argument to fit their belief system (Tuller et al., 2015). Appeals that invoke value concerns that are relevant to the opposing party are much more effective at shifting policy perceptions and beliefs than appeals from your own point of view (Feiberg & Willer, 2015).

Support governmental reforms and bipartisanship. At the legislative level, politician polarization will decrease when it becomes disadvantageous to be extreme.  One way to decrease the attractiveness of extremity is by supporting open or semi-open primaries. By allowing independents and moderates to vote in primaries, candidates must account for the appeal of their policy stances to a broader audience (Epstein & Graham, 2007). Additionally, increase attention to and positively reinforce bipartisan action on the part of legislators.  Websites like govtrack.us have begun to provide yearly information about bipartisanship for all members of the Senate and House of Representatives, which can help in the endeavor to hold our pundits accountable.

Overall, while it may feel good in the short run to isolate ourselves from partisans on the other side of the ideological divide, the long term consequences of political homogeneity are dire. We have to ask ourselves, is the short term gain to be had through violent enforcement of one viewpoint more important than the long term success and well-being of our nation as a whole?



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