About a year ago, I was in a networking group, and the current group president used to bring his coffee mug to every meeting with the proud logo emblazoned on it: “Liberal Tears.”
Political affiliation used to be characterized by agreeing with the policies and beliefs of a specific party or platform. In the last few years, though, what has become stronger is negative affiliation, a hatred of the opposing party’s views. To put it another way, you could be a Republican because you believe in and agree with conservative views or because you despise Liberals. Or you could be a Democrat because you believe in and agree with liberal priorities or you could despise conservatives or their views. If your hatred of the other party is stronger than your affiliation to your own party, you have a negative party affiliation.
For the first time in surveys dating to 1992, majorities in both parties express not just unfavorable but very unfavorable views of the other party. And today, sizable shares of both Democrats and Republicans say the other party stirs feelings of not just frustration, but fear and anger.
More than half of Democrats (55%) say the Republican Party makes them “afraid,” while 49% of Republicans say the same about the Democratic Party. Among those highly engaged in politics – those who say they vote regularly and either volunteer for or donate to campaigns – fully 70% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans say they are afraid of the other party. Pew Research, 2016.
The data also showed that this anger or fear of the other party was stronger than agreement with one’s own party affiliation:
While partisans generally agree with their party’s policy positions at least most of the time, just 16% of Republicans and 20% of Democrats say they “almost always” agree with their party’s policy stances. By contrast, more than twice as many Republicans and Democrats (44% each) say they “almost never” agree with the other party’s positions. ibid
There is also personal animosity at play in these results. Members of either party rated members of the opposing party as lower than their rating of any other group. Democrats rated Republicans 31 on a scale of 100, and Republicans rated Democrats 29. This is personal hatred at play here. In fact, the only lower rating on this 2016 Pew survey was the Republicans’ rating of Hillary Clinton (12) or the Democrats’ rating of Donald Trump (11). It reminded me of something a family member said several years ago on a Facebook post, that it was unacceptable that Democrats were allowed to take the sacrament, and someone should do something about that. It’s not the first time I’ve heard a Church member make that claim.
Stupid, lazy and evil. These are the types of claims we tend to make about the opposing arguments, and this data shows the same. Republicans said they considered Democrats closed-minded (52%), immoral (47%), lazy (46%), dishonest (45%) and unintelligent (32%). Democrats said many of the same things about Republicans: closed-minded (70%), dishonest (42%), immoral (35%), unintelligent (33%) and lazy (18%).
Since 2016, the research shows that this party animosity has also spread to independents.
For independents who lean toward a party, the belief that the other party’s policies are harmful is the most frequently cited reason for their partisan leaning. Nearly six-in-ten Republican-leaning independents (58%) and Democratic leaners (57%) say a major reason for leaning to the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively, is a feeling that the other party’s policies are harmful for the country. Pew Research, 2018
Independents who lean one way or the other have more in common with the dislikes of the party they lean toward than they do with other independents.
I realized that, as an independent, I am skeptical of both parties, but usually more fearful of the bad ideas I see coming from the right, particularly social policies that I see as harmful to women or minorities. The left has some blind spots, but the right feels morally bankrupt to me in its blind support of tradition and patriarchy. When a friend observed that she didn’t think she could stay married to her husband if he left the Church, I disagreed, but admitted that I didn’t think I could stay married to someone who was a Trump supporter.
This animosity is precisely the kind of thinking that shuts down dialogue. The only way to change minds and hearts is to really listen, to open up a dialogue and find out what makes people fearful or angry on both sides. We might not always like what we hear, but it’s the only starting point. Recently, Stephen Marsh shared an article that helped me see the right from a more comprehensible view. I grew up in rural PA, and last year when I was back in my hometown I felt downright nervous as I passed the Trump 2020 signs and confederate flags. If they knew my real feelings, would I be in danger? Why don’t they care about the things I care about? A few things the article pointed out that I couldn’t help but agree with:
- Sometimes liberals are pretty pretentious and smug.
- Rural America is often presented as a punchline in movies & TV, not in a sympathetic way that they recognize.
- People of other races were rarely encountered in 1980s rural PA, so their marginalization often seems like a distant, foreign problem to those who live there. I was shocked to the core when my high school boyfriend revealed his racism to me after I ran into one of my close Church friends at the mall. I didn’t realize that someone I could have a relationship with could have such terrible feelings toward another person solely on the basis of race.
- The problems that exist in cities may impact more people, but there are also policies that hurt rural communities disproportionately, and the left generally doesn’t focus on rural problems.
Janet Jackson used to ask “What have you done for me lately?” and that’s what many of these rural voters (like all voters) have been asking.
As P.J. O’Rourke once noted: “The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.”
And boy, have they been proving it! Reading the article didn’t make me lean to the right, but it did take a lot of the heat out of my animosity, giving me more patience to listen to what I often don’t want to hear.
To bring that partisan animosity into a more recent example, just consider the different perspectives of the “openers” and the “closers.” To hear them tell it, those who want the restrictions lifted are selfish fools who want to kill us all, and those who want to tighten restrictions are hysterical tyrants who mostly have the privilege of working from home. In a recent NextDoor post this week, a neighbor put up a poll asking who would be willing to do a 3 day total stay at home (no exceptions) and calling for those who would not do it to justify to their neighbors why not. It’s been almost a week since that post started, and the bloodbath continues.
- Do you affiliate more with a party or more against the other party?
- Has your party affiliation changed over time? In what direction and why?
- How do you take the heat out of your animosity and get along with those whose views you oppose?
- Do you encounter this hatred of the “other party” at Church or do people try to keep it under wraps for courtesy sake?
 I go bike riding everyday, and I’m not seeing people congregating at all. All amenities at the park are shut down, and there are a scattering of people walking dogs, running, or riding their bikes. I’m not sure why the person is seeking a total doors barred shutdown that hasn’t been mandated since I’m not seeing a lot of flouting of the rules in our community, but apparently I’m not vigilant enough. I must be one of the flouters.