Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Myth of a Divided Nation

Are we a divided nation? That certainly is the impression you get from the cable news outlets. They display maps of the U.S. comprised of clusters of "red states" and "blue states". The statistics of the popular vote in the Presidential election seem to support this notion of a divided country, with 50% voting for Obama and 48% voting for Romney. TV, radio and Internet pundits will express that "half of America" voted for Obama and "almost half" voted for Romney. But is that really true? I don't think so.

To begin with, the "half" that voted for Obama and the "almost half" that voted for Romney do not make up the "whole" of the United States. The total population of the United States is approximately 315 million. The number of people who voted is approximately 119 million. In other words, about 38% of the population voted. That means the 50% percent who voted for Obama are only about 19% of the population of the country (and slightly less for the percentage that voted for Romney). But how many of those voters are truly "red" or "blue"? According to Gallup, 40% of Americans identify as Independents, 31% as Democrats and 27% as Republicans. If we assume that those percentages match the makeup of actual voters, then it would mean that about 97 million registered Democrats voted, 85 million Republicans voted and a whopping 126 million Independents voted. These numbers are all very fuzzy--I'm no Nate Silver by any stretch--but the point is that those who are truly "blue" or "red" are a minority within a minority.

American culture tends to think in dualistic, binary terms and so we naturally gravitate to the "Red state vs. Blue state" narrative. But in reality, many things exist along a continuum rather than at opposing poles--especially when it comes to things that distinguish one person from another. The fact that 57% of the electorate in Texas voted for Romney does not make Texas a "red" state, anymore than 54% of Oregon voters choosing Obama makes it a "blue" state. Of that 57% in Texas and that 54% in Oregon, how many voted a straight partisan ticket and how many voted for multiple parties, say a Democratic President and a Republican Senator (or vice-versa)? How many who voted for Romney in Colorado also voted to legalize Marijuana? How many who voted for Obama in Washington state also voted against gay marriage? People, and their political/social/moral views, are complex. The bichromatic map is a ridiculous oversimplification.

Those who see the United States as a divided nation are, I would suggest, those who themselves are at one extreme of the spectrum and assume that those who don't share their perspective must be at the other extreme. They see polarity because they themselves are polarized. But I believe the truth is that the American populace--the 38% who voted and the 62% who didn't--are spead out all across the spectrum on any given political issue or position--from Strongly Agree to Somewhat Agree to Neutral to Somewhat Disagree to Strongly Disagree (and all the gradients in between). Two people who strongly agree with each other on one issue may strongly disagree with each other on another issue. And they can still be friends. The "divided nation" story is a myth. The truth is that we all have much more in common than we do in contrast.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

America is America. We ALL should be together trying to improve things instead of trying to tear appart the country. We need to get on Congress's case, if they continue doing nothing we'll end up in a bigger mess.

8:49 AM  

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