Friday, July 18, 2014

Beyond Red and Blue


     I did a post last month called Let's Keep 'Em Honest about how media pundits, who are often professional partisans, play havoc with the rules of logic in order to make their point of view seem more believable. They make a personal attack -- calling someone insane, or loony, or just plain stupid -- instead of addressing the substance of an issue. They exaggerate the other person's argument, or use an extreme example, in order to make their own argument sound more reasonable. And they constantly (and often deliberately) confuse correlation with causation -- saying one thing follows another when there is no logical connection.

     For example, I saw a report recently from a conservative pointing out (correctly) that gun violence has gone down over the last 20 years -- which "proves" (although it doesn't prove any such thing) that there is no need for any gun regulation.

     Meanwhile, accounts from liberals picture some tattooed and armed-to-the-hilt middle age man flashing his arsenal and daring some pinko commie to try to come and rip his guns from his red-blooded American hands (the extreme example), as if to prove that all gun owners are one small step this side of crazy.

     There is a website called Punditfact, a project of the Tampa Bay Tribune and the Poynter Institute, that checks the accuracy of claims made by pundits, columnists, political analysts, and other people in the media. After doing an overall analysis, the site determined that some 60 percent of comments made by FOX News hosts and personalities were mostly or outright false. They also calculated that 46 percent of the punditry made on MSNBC is also mostly or completely false.

     So if you're relying on these sources to support your own views, then you are making a big mistake.

     A new study by Pew Research has determined that people who are active supporters of both Republicans and Democrats have become more polarized. Why? Because Republicans listen to FOX News and other conservative commentators who distort many facts. And Democrats listen to MSNBC and read left-of-center publications, which also twist logic, and are selective with their facts, to try to support their own point of view.

     Partisans only talk to people they agree with; and because of that, their views are reinforced, leading them to agree with one another more and more. Pew Research determined that now, more than ever, you can predict what a politician will think about any issue, if you just know what he or she thinks about one issue, because more than ever politicians follow the accepted group think of their own kind.

     But Pew Research also determined that while the highly partisan groups, which dominate the major political parties, have become more extreme, the majority of the American public has not. The partisan groups of both left and right together make up 36 percent of the public. But the current political landscape includes a "large and diverse center," representing 54 percent of the American public. (The other 10 percent are classified by Pew as completely disengaged -- they don't pay any attention to political or social issues).

     Since the partisans are more vocal, more aggressive, more actively involved, they make up a bigger slice of the voters, and a majority of political volunteers and party donors. Nevertheless, on hot-button issues such as abortion, gun ownership and immigration, a clear majority of Americans does not fall into the "always" or "never" camp, but has a more comprehensive understanding of the issue and takes a more centrist position. This majority believes both President Obama and Republican leaders should compromise to address the country's problems.

     Pew Research has parsed the political spectrum into several more nuanced political types. If you're interested, you can go to the Political Typology Quiz to see where you fit in. Caution though: I took the quiz and came out a "Next Generation Left" -- and I don't have to tell you, I am not the Next Generation. Nor am I particularly left, though this category is classified as one of the middle-of-the-road types.

     Anyway, perhaps the solution to the polarizing of our political system, and the decoupling of politics from the concerns of regular people, should rest with us Baby Boomers and retired folks. According to a recent U. S. Census report, Americans over age 65 were the only people who voted in higher proportions in 2012 than in 2008. Some 72 percent of this age group actually voted in the 2012 election, a greater voter participation rate than any other group.

17 comments:

DJan said...

I'll take that test, Tom. I expect I'll come out somewhere left of center, since I've been a lifelong Democrat and vote in every single election, and am well past 65. I don't watch any news shows except for the PBS News Hour (for the reasons you cite) but my husband does watch MSNBC and Fox, just to see what's being said out there. I wish I could leave the politics behind me; it only makes me sad.

DJan said...

Yep, Solid Liberal. I'm not surprised. :-)

Tabor said...

I know that I am left of center but I only got half way through that test because I do not think the questions did anything but prove our polarization on issues. The resolutions were too black and white and thus not helpful in determining nuance in my thinking. Also times changing would change answers to those question for me. I do listen to MSNBC and realize it is slanted, and was created as a response to Fox. I find there is more factual information on MSNBC. I used to listen to CNN, but it has become more tabloid in nature. BBC is still good and of course, PBS.

Anonymous said...

I am left and always have been, the politicians in the place I live 3 are just plain crooked as hell, the newspaper makes fun of them but they get a ton of money for doing basically diddly squat..Recreational marijuana opened up and I did not see any of them buying one damn ounce even though I am sure they voted for it..I would love to see them see the highschool and younger crowd by my home toking the crap and getting into a lot of crap, it is just a start in my book and expensive I was surprised 2 ounce bags running uptoward $50.00 who has that kind of money, I like to enjoy seasonal veggies and fruits and the salmon out here is outstanding as is the crab, oysters and clams, oy vey I am glad I lived in California during the summer of 1967 the summer of love, I was working hard, going to college and marijuana would never ever consider buying anything..I think most politicians are full of living crap..Hillary saying they were broke Bill too, give me a freaking break, anyone who gets to be president of the USA never is broke after they get to that ranch..ciao!

rosaria williams said...

Until I retired I was in a fog, politically. Unless there was a local issue that would affect me or my family I was out of the loop. Most working people have little time to stay current on any issue.

Olga Hebert said...

A solid liberal here--now there's a big surprise.
I have given up watching news on a regular basis, but I do checK in on PBS and NPR now and then so I won't be completely ignorant. I put a v-chip on Fox news just so I wouldn't be exposed to it if I channel surf.

Anonymous said...

STEADFAST CONSERVATIVE.

Which is pure BS.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Solid Liberal. No surprise.With two journalism degrees and years of experience as a journalist, I'm aghast at the pivotal role the media is playing in the current polarization.

Anonymous said...

In the past I regularly read Mother Jones as an alternative to my conservative leaning views...

Douglas said...

A fine post, Tom, one of your best... quite fair and balanced (in my opinion, of course). First, let me say that Rosaria is quite typical. Until asked, most people do not even think about politics. When we get older, when we retire and find ourselves with a lot of spare time, we can afford the luxury of delving into our political natures.
Olga is also quite typical; protecting herself (she thinks) from hearing something which might shake her political belief system.
I urge people to not ever shut out opposing points of view. Because to do so is to never challenge your own and not challenging your own political beliefs is to be just another herd animal.

Finally, let me offer this:
We see what we want to see,
hear what we want to hear,
and believe what we (think) we want to believe.


Step outside the box.

gigihawaii said...

I rarely watch the news on TV. I usually read the newspaper delivered in the morning or read the online breaking news throughout the day. I would describe myself as in the center politically.

Olga Hebert said...

Douglas, while I readily admit to being an ostrich or one of those who puts hands over ears and sings "la-la-la," you kind of hurt my feelings. Typical?

Linda Myers said...

Next Generation for me, but I would like to have seen more possible answers to pick up nuances.

Friko said...

It’s much the same over here. Or in many places in the world, I imagine.

Confrontation is all, cooperation isn’t seen as anything to strive for. The well-being of the nation? Don’t make me laugh.

And here too it’s the older folk who vote.

Dick Klade said...

Excellent analysis, Tom. Chances of positive change, unfortunately, appear remote unless a "new media" based on objectivity as journalism once was emerge on the internet. Not likely that will happen the way things are going now. Internet news blogs simply mirror the Fox and MSNBC biased programming.

Kirk said...

I saw a PBS report on Friday about political polarization in Wisconsin. One of the politicians, referring to campaigning, said that you need to fish where the fish are, meaning catering to your party members rather than trying to convince the other side to vote for you.

Business Conservative for me, although most of the questions were so black and white that it was hard to choose when my answer would be halfway.

Retired Syd said...

Up until a few months ago I was addicted to the cable "news" shows. I gave equal time to CNN, MSNBC, and Fox. Actually I probably watched more Fox than the others--the channel with which I disagree with the most. But I find that more fun than watching the perspectives I agree with.

To this discussion, though, let me just say that I don't think watching opposing views opens you to changing your mind at all. With as much Fox as I watched, you'd think I'd be a conservative Republican by now. For me it's just entertainment. For most, it's an echo chamber. Either way, it's something I recently gave up. I'll never get back all the time I wasted . . .