America has never felt so divided. Bitter debates that were once confined to Congressional hearings and cable TV have now found their way into every part of our lives, from our Facebook feeds to the family dinner table. But most Americans are tired of this “us-versus-them” mindset and are eager to find common ground. This is the message we’ve heard from more than 8,000 Americans in one of our country’s largest-ever studies of polarization: We hold dissimilar views on many issues. However, more than three in four Americans also believe that our differences aren’t so great that we can’t work together.
A range of major issues split the country in a recent poll called More in Common (2018).Which do you agree with more?
On the topic of sexual harassment, 49% of people polled said sexual harassment is commonplace while 51% said nowadays, too many ordinary behaviors are labelled as sexual harassment.
On the topic of White privilege, 48% of people polled said Nowadays white people do not have any real advantages over others while 52% said many white people today don’t recognize the real advantages they have.
On the topic of Islamophobia, 51% said many people nowadays are too sensitive to how Muslims are treated while 49% said many people nowadays don’t take discrimination against Muslims seriously enough,
On the topic of Immigration impact, 49% said Immigration nowadays is bad for America, costing the welfare system and using resources that could be spent on Americans while 51% said Immigration is good for America, helping sectors of our economy to be more successful and competitive.
Our research concludes that we have become a set of tribes, with different codes, values, and even facts. In our public debates, it seems that we no longer just disagree, we actually reject each other’s premises and doubt each other’s motives. We question each other’s character and block our ears to diverse perspectives. At home, polarization is souring personal relationships, ruining Thanksgiving dinners, and driving families apart.
We are experiencing these divisions in our workplaces, neighborhood groups, even our places of worship. In the media, pundits score points, mock opponents, and talk over each other. On the Internet, social media has become a hotbed of outrage, takedowns, and cruelty—often targeting total strangers.
But this can change. A majority of Americans, whom we’ve called the “Exhausted Majority,” are fed up by America’s polarization. They know we have more in common than that which divides us: our belief in freedom, equality, and the pursuit of the American dream. They share a deep sense of gratitude that they are citizens of the United States. They want to move past our differences.
Turning the tide of tribalism is possible―but it won’t be easy. Americans have real differences and real disagreements with each other. We must be able to listen to each other to understand those differences and find common ground. That’s the focus of the Hidden Tribes project: to understand better what is pulling us apart, and find what can bring us back together.
The report that you can download at is the first part of More in Common’s year-long Hidden Tribes project to understand our polarization and study what can reunite our fractured communities.
Today’s polarization reflects a perfect storm: Unsettling changes in our economy and society have left many Americans feeling like strangers in their own land. Old certainties are gone. The secure job, the growing wage, and the safety of neighborhood life where everyone knew each other—these all feel like relics of a bygone era. It feels as though hard work is no longer rewarded, and the gap between rich and poor widens every year.
Many Americans wonder who and what they can still trust. The institutions that once bound us are disappearing, and we no longer seem to have each other’s backs. Everyone appears to have a varying version of world events, and it feels harder than ever to sort fact from fiction. Our news feeds seem to just echo our own views, and when people post alternative opinions they are often attacked by angry mobs. We don’t seem to disagree anymore without perceiving another person’s views as stupid, wrong or even evil. We’re being played off each other; and told to see each other as threats and enemies, not Americans just like us but with separate experiences and views. The loudest and most extreme voices get heard, and others just feel like tuning out altogether.
Nobody wants simply to turn the clocks back, because there was a lot that wasn’t right about the world of the past. Today, we seem more fractured and fragmented than anyone can remember. Instead of helping us find solutions to move us all forward, politics is driving us apart.
When people don’t understand each other, they can’t converse or find common ground. Yet somehow, if we could only press a “reset” button, it feels like things could be different and we could move forward together as a country.
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