America is Increasingly Polarized, But Not As Much As We Think


Whether it's health care, education, immigration, guns, or seemingly anything else, we can barely escape being measured by our political division.

But, are we actually as divided as the Internet may have use believe? The data tell us a different story.

Social scientist Arthur Brooks is concerned by the growing trend of political division, so he decided to look into the issue. He found that the poll-takers measuring our discontent are mainstreaming outliers.

A new study suggests the possibility that polling numbers are being skewed by a concentrated group of highly polarized individuals rather than the general public. In other words, a few people screaming are ruining things for the rest of us.

The data show that the "silent" majority is not as divided as we might be led to believe. Only a few on the fringes respond to surveys on various political issues, and the results of those surveys are skewing our perception of national division.

Amnon Cavari and Guy Freedman published the results of their study in the Journal of Politics earlier in March.

In this study, we argue that the perceived polarization of Americans along party lines is partially an artifact of the low response rates that characterize contemporary surveys. People who agree to participate in opinion surveys are more informed, involved, and opinionated about the political process and therefore hold stronger, more meaningful, and partisan political attitudes. This motivational discrepancy generates a bias in survey research that may amplify evidence of party polarization in the mass public. We test the association between response rates and measures of polarization using individual-level data from Pew surveys from 2004 to 2014 and American National Election Studies from 1984 to 2012. Our empirical evidence demonstrates a significant decline in unit response that is associated with an increase in the percentage of politically active, partisan, and polarized individuals in these surveys. This produces evidence of dissensus that, on some issues, may be stronger than exists in reality.

In essence, our problem isn't division, it's that we're likely not interested in answering questions that are used to heighten the perception of our differences.

Do you answer polling surveyors? What has been your experience? Share your thoughts with us!