Jon Stewart’s media critique claims “the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false,” that “we know, instinctively, as a people, that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together.” He says we already are, “the truth is…we work together to get things done every damned day!”
Stewart is right. We are a nation that is closely divided, not deeply divided. We just don’t know it.
Some years ago I read Mo Fiorina’s Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America. In it Fiorina argues, “The simple truth is that there is no Culture War in the United States.” In explaining why so many of us believe there is he lists four* contributing factors. The first is confusing closely divided with deeply divided:
[p.13] Recent national elections have been exceedingly and unusually close…The question is how to interpret this electoral competitiveness. Most commentators seem to believe the answer is obvious: The American electorate is polarized… The top panel of Figure 2.1 depicts this claim graphically. Voters line up from left to right and the electorate is highly polarized… But the U-shaped distribution in the top panel of the figure by no means is the only electoral configuration that will produce close elections. In particular, consider its inverse – the bell shaped distribution in the bottom panel of Figure 2.1. In the lower figure most people hold moderate of centrist positions and relatively few are extreme ideologues. But if the Democrat and Republican parties position themselves equidistant from the center on opposite sides, then the bottom configuration, too, produces close elections. In both conditions the electorate is closely divided, but only in the top panel of the figure would we say that voters are deeply divided.