Turning the tide of tribalism is possible, but it won’t be easy. A majority of Americans are fed up with America’s polarization, we have more in common than that which divides us.
Progressive Activists seek to correct the historic marginalization of groups based on their race. gender, sexuality, wealth and other forms of privilege.
Devoted Conservatives believe that individuals need to be raised to be obedient, well behaved and hard working. They take pride in the Judeo Christian faith and American culture.
Despite these stark differences this study also finds reasons for hope. America’s political landscape is much more complicated than the binary split between liberals and conservatives often depicted in the national conversation.
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.
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.
Progressive Activists are deeply concerned with issues concerning equity, fairness, and America’s direction today. They tend to be more secular, cosmopolitan, and highly engaged with social media.
Traditional Liberals tend to be cautious, rational, and idealistic. They value tolerance and compromise. They place great faith in institutions.
Passive Liberals tend to feel isolated from their communities. They are insecure in their beliefs and try to avoid political conversations. They have a fatalistic view of politics and feel that the circumstances of their lives are beyond their control.
The Politically Disengaged are untrusting, suspicious about external threats, conspiratorially minded, and pessimistic about progress. They tend to be patriotic yet detached from politics.
Moderates are engaged in their communities, well informed, and civic-minded. Their faith is often an important part of their lives. They shy away from extremism of any sort.
Traditional Conservatives tend to be religious, patriotic, and highly moralistic. They believe deeply in personal responsibility and self-reliance.
Devoted Conservatives are deeply engaged with politics and hold strident, uncompromising views. They feel that America is embattled, and they perceive themselves as the last defenders of traditional values that are under threat.
ABOUT MORE IN COMMON
The report was conducted by More in Common, a new international initiative to build societies and communities that are stronger, more united, and more resilient to the increasing threats of polarization and social division. We work in partnership with a wide range of civil society groups, as well as philanthropy, business, faith, education, media and government to connect people across the lines of division.
Stephen Hawkins, Director of Research – Daniel Yudkin, Ph. D., Associate Director of Research – Miriam Juan-Torres, Senior Researcher – Tim Dixon, Co-Founder
This report is about polarization in America today: what is driving us apart, and what can bring us back together.
Political polls and years of knife-edge elections have convinced many that our country has become a 50:50 society. divided into two opposing political tribes and trapped in a spiral of conflict and division.
Our research uncovered a different story, one that probes underneath the issues that polarize Americans, and finds seven groups that are defined by their core beliefs, rather than by their political opinions, race, class or gender.
In talking to everyday Americans, we have found a large segment of the population whose voices are rarely heard above the shouts of the partisan tribes. These are people who believe that Americans have more in common than that which divides them. While they differ on important issues, they feel exhausted by the division in the United States. They believe that compromise is necessary in politics, as in other parts of life, and want to see the country come together and solve its problems.
In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America’s differences have become dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants, the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security, become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate. The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us.
Our polarization is not simple, but not is it insoluble. We need to understand it, so we can fix it. More in Common hopes that this report can help inform and inspire this urgent work.
This report lays out the findings of a large-scale national survey of Americans about the current state of civic life in the United States. It provides substantial evidence of deep polarization and growing tribalism. It shows that this polarization is rooted in something deeper than political opinions and disagreements over policy. But it also provides some evidence for optimism, showing that 77 percent of Americans believe our differences are not so great that we cannot come together.
At the root of America’s polarization are divergent sets of values and worldviews. or “core beliefs.” These core beliefs shape the ways that individuals Interpret the world around them at the most fundamental level. Our study shows how political opinions stem from these deeply held core beliefs.
This study examines five dimensions of individuals’ core beliefs:
– Tribaiism and group identification
– Fear and perception of threat
– Parenting style and authoritarian disposition
– Moral foundations
– Personal agency and responsibility
The study finds that this hidden architecture of beliefs, worldview and group attachments can predict an individual‘s views on social and political issues with greater accuracy than demographic factors like race, gender, or income.
The research undertaken for this report identifies seven segments of Americans (or “tribes”) who are distinguished by differences in their underlying beliefs and attitudes. Membership in these tnbes was determined by each individual‘s answers to a subset of 58 core belief and behavioral questions that were asked together with the rest of the survey. None of the questions used to create the segmentation related to current political issues or demographic indicators such as race, gender, age or income, yet the responses that each segment gives to questions on current political issues are remarkably predictable and show a very clear pattern.
The segments have distinctive sets of characteristics; here listed in order from left to right on the ideological spectrum:
Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial.
Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant. Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged. uncompromising, patriotic.
The relevance of the segmentation is evident on a wide array of subjects, from issues of race and prejudice to gender and sexuality. Progressive Activists, the most liberal group, and Devoted Conservatives, the most conservative. show strong degrees of consistency within their ranks, while being almost perfectly at odds with each other. Middle tribes, by contrast, orient themselves incrementally on the ideological spectrum.
Further evidence of the relevance of core beliefs and their associated tribal identities is that tribal membership predicts differences in Americans’ views on various political issues better than demographic, ideological, and partisan groupings. This can be seen on subjects such as approval of President Trump, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and approval of the modern feminist agenda. On these questions and many others, the differences between the most ideological segments are greater than the differences between, for instance. self-described “strong Republicans” and “strong Democrats.”
The most dramatic difference between the tribes is that which arises between the Progressive Activists and the Devoted Conservatives.
Devoted Conservatives believe that individuals need to be raised to be obedient, well behaved and hard working. They take pride in the Judeo Christian faith and American culture. They believe that their traditional values can transform flawed individuals into people of self discipline. character and responsibility.
Progressive Activists, who are at the opposite end of the spectrum. are skeptical of traditional authority and norms. They see those values as being established by socially dominant groups such as straight white men, for their own benefit. Progressive Activists seek to correct the historic marginalization of groups based on their race. gender, sexuality, wealth and other forms of privilege.
But despite these stark differences. this study also finds reasons for hope. America’s political landscape is much more complicated than the binary split between liberals and conservatives often depicted in the national conversation. In particular, we find among the seven tribes, an “Exhausted Majority,” whose members do not conform to either partisan ideology.
The Exhausted Majority contains distinct groups of people with varying degrees of political understanding and activism. But they share a sense of fatigue with our polarized national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their political viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.
Members of the Exhausted Majority are considerably more ideologically flexible than members of other groups. While members of the “wing” groups (on both the left and the right) tend to hold strong and consistent views across a range of political issues, those in the Exhausted Majority tend to deviate significantly in their views from issue to issue.
Furthermore, the wing groups, which often dominate the national conversation, are in fact in considerable isolation in their views on certain topics. For instance, 82 percent of Americans agree that hate speech is a problem in America today, but 80 percent also view political correctness as an issue. By contrast. only 30 percent of Progressive Activists believe political correctness is a problem.
Similarly, most Americans hold complex views on refugees. Sixty-three percent of Americans are concerned that the refugee screening process “is not tough enough to keep out possible terrorists”, but 64 percent simultaneously believe that “people should be able to take refuge in other countries, including America, to escape from war or persecution”. Just 27 percent of Devoted Conservatives agree in this principle of the US accepting refugees. This suggests that the Exhausted Majority is more practical and less ideological than its more extreme counterparts.
Yet it would be a mistake to think of the Exhausted Majority merely as a group of political centrists, at least in the way that term is traditionally understood. They do not simply represent a midpoint between the warring tribes of the left and right. They are frustrated with the status quo and the conduct of American politics and public debate. They overwhelmingly believe that the American government is rigged to serve the rich and influential, and they want things to change.
With that said. there is nevertheless one segment within the Exhausted Majority that matches the traditional understanding of centrism: the Moderates. who comprise 15 percent of the population and whose views are consistently very close to the center of public opinion.
The Exhausted Majority may be the key to countering polarization.
Traditional Liberals and Moderates instinctively support compromise. Their voices would be strengthened if the Passive Liberals develop greater confidence in the value of their participation. On the other hand. the Politically Disengaged are at risk of being drawn into polarizing us versus them narratives, especially given their comparatively high levels of distrust and suspicion.
Differences in people’s underlying beliefs have always existed in healthy societies. Today, however. these differences are becoming more difficult to mediate. Liberals and conservatives are moving farther apart, and tribal tensions are boiling over more regularly in politics and media as well as in daily life.
The forces driving polarization have a variety of sources including economic insecurity, growing inequality, cultural and demographic change, and the weakening of local communities.
Many people are feeling a loss of identity and belonging. Populists and extremists are exploiting these vulnerabilities by advancing us-versus them narratives, often focusing on immigrants and refugees. Social media is heightening conflict in public debate and bringing extreme narratives into the mainstream?
If we can better comprehend what lies behind our differences, we may prevent this polarization from spiraling out of control. Many Americans today suffer from deep injustices related to their race, sex, religion, sexuality and other facets of their identities. But productive national dialogue about these and other critical issues has reached an impasse, in large part due to the widening gap between the major ideological and partisan perspectives.
The goal of this report is to improve our understanding of this polarization and its underlying causes. It highlights the need to unite Americans of conflicting beliefs and values. These connections create empathy and put people’s opinions and beliefs into a more human context. This report tries to capture that human context by allowing Americans from every position on the political spectrum to speak for themselves.
Download this report Hidden Tribes