How you react to the above images says much about your politics. The groups pictured are two of the most politically divided organizations in today’s American society. They exemplify how certain concepts have become tribal cues that are triggers for some people and landmines for others.
Institutions including Black Lives Matter, The Tea Party, the American flag, the Confederate flag and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, draw specific responses from people depending on their political leanings, according to a recent poll by Ipsos. As a result, they can unify or derail even the most well-meaning people or groups who include them in their conversations and actions.
Ipsos asked 1,004 American adults about their opinions on 51 symbols, institutions, identities and groups. The options that people most disapproved are also some of the most partisan. For example, Americans rated Fortune 500 CEOs, the Tea Party and the Confederate flag at the bottom of the options. They each showed a gulf of some 30 points between Democrats and Republicans.
“The whole point of this research is to help inform people who are worried about social life in America and trying to engage with what’s going on in society,” says Chris Jackson, vice president, U.S. Public Affairs of Ipsos. “They’re seeing these inadvertent furors caused by these divisive identities and need help knowing where to step. We’re trying to show the space where everyone feels the same and the space that is sensitive where you’re probably going to get a differential response from listeners.”
The whistles and triggers of political tribes
Jackson says it builds off the concept of “hot cognition” that we borrow from behavioral science. That’s where people make decisions based not on logic but instead they figure out where something fits in their allegiances and then react accordingly. “It’s the idea that people use these cognitive short cuts to figure out how to respond to something,” he says.
No institution or symbol in the U.S. has become as politicized and polarized as Black Lives Matter. While 82% of Democrats approved of the activist movement, just 30% of Republicans viewed it favorably. That left a 52-point gap. Following that, feminists (43), LGBTQ people (37), activists (42) and Ronald Reagan rounded out the most divisive topics.
Although the late president last held office in 1989, he was the most partisan option on the survey in which Republicans held the most favorable opinion. Most GOP supporters (87%) rated him positively, compared to Democrats (51%), a 36-point difference.
What Americans have in common
All these differences beg the question; is there anything on which Americans are united anymore? Actually, yes. In fact, Americans agree on plenty of things.
What people rated most favorably and with the least partisanship weren’t symbols, but personal, aspirational characteristics like being intelligent (93%), responsibility (93%) and taking care of others (92%). Americans gave a thumbs-up on Abraham Lincoln, school teachers and the American flag. Yet, the Stars and Stripes showed the largest political divide among the 15 top-rated topics.
Jackson says it heartened him to see how Americans shared a lot of fundamental American values. “It suggests that there is still a chance for unity despite how divisive everything is.” He believes Americans must get past their identity politics in order for their shared values to bring them together.
“It’s one of the biggest questions we have in society right now,” he says. “It’s how we see each other as humans and Americans and share love of responsibility and self-reliance and caring for others and not necessarily through the point of view of white men or college professors or professional athletes or the Tea Party.”
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