I recently read a really interesting article about a poll of Republicans and Democrats about what they know about people from the other party, the opposition. Wow, there are some messed up facts in people’s heads. First, the methodology. They asked people who identified as either Republicans or Democrats what percentage of the other party–and their own–was comprised of various groups of people that are stereotypically associated with that group.

Just for fun, let’s play along. You’re on your honor here because I’ll reveal the findings below which will doubtless influence your answers if you read ahead. First, note if you are a Republican or a Democrat. [1] Next, write down what percent of each party comprises of the following demographic:

DEMOCRATS

  1. How many are atheists?
  2. How many are black?
  3. How many are LGB?
  4. How many belong to a union?

REPUBLICANS

  1. How many are over 65 years old?
  2. How many are Evangelicals?
  3. How many are Southerners?
  4. How many earn more than $250K a year?

Be honest, and report your results below in the comments, including your party affiliation. The actual results are in the footnotes. [2]

While I can’t honestly report my own results because I read the article before I wrote this OP, I did poll both of my sons who are staunch Democrats.

I found a few of the results very surprising across the board. For one thing, both parties overestimated how many LBG people are in the Democratic party to the point that there literally aren’t that many LBG people in the whole country. Likewise with blacks and the Democratic party. Also, the percent of people making more than $250K, if true as estimated by Democrats, would mean the median income in the US is significantly higher than we know it is. Many of these inaccurate guesses are due to innumeracy or hey, the failing public school systems (depending on your party affiliation).

The specific problem is that people have a general idea that the majority of a group of people belong to a specific party, but that doesn’t mean they are a majority within that party. That demographic group is still only as large as it is. For example, only 12.5% of the US population is black. Republicans estimated that 46% of Democrats are black. For that to be true, assuming 31% of Americans are Democrats and let’s say 100% of black people are Democrats (which isn’t quite right), the highest percent of the Democratic party that could be black is 40.3%, and several of those assumptions are kind of out there mathematically.

Interestingly, the percent of Republicans over 65 was half what Democrats thought it was. The image of the scared, anti-progressive elderly person shaking their cane at a passing world may be a trope, but it’s not a truth universally acknowledged that a Republican voter is necessarily skeered of a changed future they won’t be here for anyway. It’s a stereotype sketch with comically exaggerated features, not a robust portrait of a complex human being full of contradictions (like most of us are).

There’s also a bit of a Yogi Berra problem–the percentages people estimate well exceed 100% of the party. That’s fine if you believe that most of the members of the Democratic party tick several of the boxes, but these amalgams are kind of nutty when you think of them. What are the odds that many people in the Democratic party are black, gay atheists who belong to a trade union? I only know one Democrat who ticks three of the four boxes. What are the odds that a lot of elderly Southern Evangelicals also make over $250K per year? It’s not impossible, but it’s pretty unlikely given the median income of the US.

But we can’t let ourselves off the hook for assumptions about who is in our own in-group either. Dems thought that 29% of their fellow Dems were LGB, unlikely even if 10% of all people are LGB (which is a high estimate). Republicans thought 38% of Dems were LGB, a mathematical impossibility even at that high estimate. If 10% of the country is LGB (which is probably high), and 31% of people are Democrats (which is accurate from 2017 numbers), then the maximum who could be LGB in the Democratic party–if 100% of them are registered Democrats–is 32.2%. But the actual number is 6% because really, how many people do they think are LGB? And none of them would be Independents or Republicans?? Why does it matter if people overestimate how many gay people there are? Well, it matters a lot because according to this study, thinking there are a lot more gay people than there are correlates with lower support for their rights. It’s easier for some to believe they don’t require special protections if there are more of them.

I was pleased that when I asked my 19 year old son [3] to play along, he actually did significantly better than the majority of those polled, coming within a few points of the correct numbers in most cases. He did (like many Democrats) still substantially overestimate the wealth of Republicans, but nowhere near to the ridiculous proportions of his fellow Democrats’ estimates. He estimated 10%; the actual is a mere 2%. If it were as high as 10% (let alone the crazy talk estimate of Democrats who said 44%!) the median income in the US would be much higher than it is. Sorry, but there ain’t gold in them thar hills, Dems. The pot at the end of that rainbow is an empty coal bucket, and the Leprechaun guarding it was exiled for dressing funny.

My older son, age 23, did even better due to his background in Economics. He got the 2% correct on Republicans making $250K or more. He also hit the LGB Democrats number exactly. He overestimated the geriatric GOP by 9 points, and bucked the trend by underestimating both Evangelicals (20% vs. the 34% actual) and Southerners (20% vs. the 36% actual). He underestimated black voters in the Democratic party (8% vs. the actual 24%).

I was very interested in seeing how party affiliation lined up with the percentage of the population these demographics comprise. I didn’t realize (until I looked it up) that a full 26.3% of Americans self-identify as Evangelical Christian. That’s a really high number (much higher than when I was a teen), and it’s a higher number than the 24% who identify as Republican. What % of Republicans identify as Evangelical? Just 34% (vs. the 44% estimated by Democrats). In other words, there are more Evangelicals who identify as Independent, Democrat, something else, or unaffiliated than who claim the Republican party. Coming from a Mormon perspective where the clear majority are firmly planted in the GOP, that is surprising. A drill down into the various denominations that identify as Evangelical (and the difference between leaning right and affiliating with the Republican party) make this a little more believable.

What was more disturbing than these skewed views of the other party was a Pew Study that showed that there is a very high negative party affiliation currently, which means that people affiliate with a party not because they love it and agree with its values and ideals so much as they hate and oppose the other party–a party that these results show is actually quite different than what they think it is.

  • 43% of Republicans said they were Republican more because they were against what the Democratic party represents than because they agreed with the Republican party’s ideals.
  • 40% of Democrats said they were Democrats more because they opposed what the Republican party represents than because they agreed with the Democratic party’s ideals.

Another factor that is very limiting in changing these misconceptions is that people mostly befriend those of the same party affiliation.

  • Only 14% of Republicans claimed they were friends with “a lot” of Democrats. 9% of Democrats said they were friends with “a lot” of Republicans. These are the ones with the most exposure to opposing viewpoints that might be portrayed more accurately and with more nuance.
  • 57% of Republicans claim they are friends with “a lot” of Republicans, and 67% of Democrats said they were friends with “a lot” of Democrats. These are the folks who are mostly surrounded by an echo chamber, people sharing the same views and circulating the same stories, banded together against the party they oppose. They are more likely to see the other party as a caricature due to lack of exposure.

This antipathy toward the other party has only risen in the last 3 decades.

  • In 1994, 17% of Republicans had a “very unfavorable” view of Democrats. That has risen to 45% in 2017.
  • In 1994, 16% of Democrats had a “very unfavorable” view of Republicans. That has risen to 44% in 2017.

I suppose at least everyone hates each other in equal measure. I hate to see anyone bullied. Trump has been a particularly polarizing president compared to the last six presidents.

  • Only 8% of Democrats approved of Trump’s performance in the first year vs. 88% of Republicans. Honestly, that number makes me want to vomit, and I’m not even a Democrat. Only 12% of Republicans agreed that Trump has made the GOP worse (40% said he’s made it better). 63% of Democrats said that he’s made it worse. Apparently what Democrats see as a bug, Republicans see as a feature.
  • By contrast, 23% of Republicans approved of Obama’s first year and 46% of Democrats approved of G.W. Bush’s first year. 22% of Republicans approved of Clinton’s first year, and 51% of Dems approved of Bush Sr.’s first year.

The real hope lies in people who break from the party stereotype mold to affiliate with a party but vocally demonstrate their unique stance. A stand up comic I recently watched on Stephen Colbert [4] talked about how he (a progressive) felt that his favorite people were “bros” who had progressive views because their views were unexpected so people would pay more attention. He said he fit the stereotype for a Democrat so nobody cared what he said. For example, he said he loved when a “bro” said “Why wouldn’t I want the gays to marry? More women for us!” or when another “bro” said “Why would I care who takes a dump in the stall next to me?” Because these stances are unexpected, we pay closer attention.

  • What were your guesses and your party affiliation?
  • Were you surprised by some of these numbers?
  • Do you have “a lot” of friends of the other party?
  • Are your political views an affiliation with a party’s ideals or an opposition to the other party’s policies and ideals?
  • How do you think we improve this partisan problem in the US? Do you think it’s going to continue to get worse or start to get better?

Discuss.

[1] Or an Independent like me or something entirely different like a Libertarian or not a US citizen–everyone can play, even those not voting in the US election, because you probably still have some idea of what these two parties are like just based on indulging in US media like Netflix or the news.

[2] Here are the actual results:

DEMOCRATS

  1. 9% atheist / agnostic
  2. 24% black
  3. 6% LGB
  4. 11% belong to a union

REPUBLICANS

  1. 21% are over 65
  2. 34% Evangelicals?
  3. 36% Southerners?
  4. 2% earn more than $250K a year

[3] Big Time Democrat, like a lot of 19 year olds: idealistic, but no idea what things cost.

[4] This guy really bombed. It was painful to watch. But his point was similar to what I’m saying here.