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.