We all know that black and white thinking contributes to toxic polarization. Complex issues are crushed down into good vs bad, right vs wrong, and us vs them binaries, leading to tribalism and societal breakdown. This addiction to oversimplification destroys society and healthy democratic functioning.
Social scientists have been tracking this phenomena in various ways. In her book Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity, political scientist Liliana Mason argues that partisan, ideological, and social identities (including race and religion) have become “sorted” together, meaning that each political party has grown increasingly homogenous. For example, one could theoretically be a God fearing, gun toting, white male rural Democrat, and one could be a latte drinking, Whole Foods shopping, college educated LGBTQ suburban black female Republican. But the data shows this is less and less the case.
In other words, due to this “clustering” effect, I can predict your partisan affiliation simply by knowing several of your social affiliations. If you are a gay black woman, the chances you voted for Donald Trump are very, very slim. This means that social groups have become increasingly homogenous and less diverse along cultural and ideological lines. The chance that I’ll encounter someone of opposing political beliefs is increasingly slim, because the chance that I’ll frequent a social space containing perspectives or identities contrary to my own is increasingly slim.
Why is this an issue? As Mason says, “For decades, political scientists have understood that the effects of partisanship are mitigated by what are called “cross-cutting cleavages.” These are attitudes or identities that are not commonly found in the partisan’s party. If a person is a member of one party and also a member of a social group that is generally associated with the opposing party, the effect of partisanship on bias and action can be dampened. However, if a person is a member of one party and also a member of another social group that is mostly made up of fellow partisans, the biasing and polarizing effect of partisanship can grow…