'The Perception Gap' Between the Parties

More news consumption and education leads to misperceptions about political opponents.

Culture Beat · Jun. 26, 2019

According to a study by More in Common, billed as a “nonpartisan organization” by The Washington Post, politically minded Americans view their ideological opponents as so extreme it becomes caricature. The authors write, “Our study explores how Americans tend to have a distorted understanding of people on the other side of the aisle, what causes it, and why it matters.”

The Post reports:

Real and consequential differences separate Americans, but the more divided we get, the more mistakes we make. For example, Democrats estimate that about half of Republicans would admit that racism is still a problem in the United States, when in reality 79 percent of Republicans say so. Republicans, meanwhile, think fully half of Democrats would say that “most police are bad people.” The actual percentage is 15 percent.

Some amount of the time, we are fighting ghosts, not real people. And the more inaccurate our perceptions, the more likely we are to describe our opponents as “hateful” and “brainwashed,” the study found.

The study also found that the more news folks consume, the more distorted their views. “Media coverage is now feeding our misperceptions,” they write. What’s also fascinating is that what the authors call “the Perception Gap” is also worsened by education … but only for Democrats: “While Republicans’ misperceptions of Democrats do not improve with higher levels of education, Democrats’ understanding of Republicans actually gets worse with every additional degree they earn.” Given the gross indoctrination that takes place on American college and university campuses, this is hardly surprising.

It is human nature to identify with a “tribe” and to want to beat the other tribe. Modern mass media taps into this by highlighting the division. It gets eyeballs and … sells advertising. Remember that next time the angry, yelling pundits on your TV act like the nation faces irreconcilable differences.

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