But what if the source of this polarization has little do with where people actually fall on the issues, or what people actually believe in? What if people are simply polarized by political labels like “liberal” and “conservative” and what they imagine their opponents to be like more than they are by disagreements over issues like taxes, abortion, and immigration?
That news wouldn’t surprise anybody who’s spent time battling it out in a news outlet’s comment section, and it’s the firm conclusion of new research by Lilliana Mason, a professor at the University of Maryland.
Her paper, “Ideologues Without Issues: the Polarizing Consequences of Ideological Identities,” published in late March by Public Opinion Quarterly, uses 2016 data from Survey Sampling International and American National Election Studies to study how and why Americans are politically polarized.
I have personally seen this in action. I’ve been able to get my conservative friends to back universal healthcare, admit that income inequality is an issue, and admit that climate change is real––until I frame these issues in that way. Politics in the United States is incredibly tribal.