June 9, 2012

Labels? Who Needs 'Em?; or Stop Shouting, I'm Standing Right Next To You

After yesterday's post about the partisan divide I started thinking about my own viewpoints, and whether my personal experience matched what the Pew Research Center's report claimed.  Now, I will be the first to admit that my political mindset and view of society has evolved in my maturation from teen to thirtysomething, but I am certain that I am just as independent-minded as the day I first registered to vote, a disaffect suburban teen rejecting the Big Two and "declining to state."  Right?

The reason that notion has been thrown into some doubt was my rediscovery of another excellent Pew Research study, the American Political Typology survey.  I recall back in the heady days of 1999 when I was a collegian - hopeful, innocent, long-haired, and tolerant of low-quality keg beer - and the third installment of the Typology survey was pointed out to me by one of my more politically-active friends.  So, we fired up Netscape and www'ed our way over to the Pew website and took the survey.  It turned out that, based on my responses to a series of either/or questions I was a "New Prosperity Independent".  I "supported Clinton", was "cyber savvy", "young", believed in "prosperity" and "the status quo."  Apparently, that was bad new for Al Gore.  Who knew?  All we cared about were tasty waves, cool bud and we were fine.
1999: The Year of Living Spicoli-ly

Remember, this was 1999 and we were partying like it was, because the stock market was skyrocketing, the internet was spitting out new millionaires by the gross, and Bill Clinton looked like he might actually solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem.  I actually had friends who traded stocks on E-Trade between classes.  No Doubt and the young, skinny Ms. Spears had replaced the dour, brooding, nihilistic Kobains and Vedders on heavy rotation on MTV.  (Yes, dear reader, they used to play music videos on Music Television.)  Who wouldn't be optimistic that good times would keep on rolling?  Well, we all know how that ended.

Fast forward to the present, when I was poking around the Pew Research Center's website and stumbled across the current iteration of the Political Typology survey.  So, again with the pointing and the clicking and the compiling of responses, and presto1:
Okay, so I probably have modified my stance on some macro-economic and societal issues since 1999, but a Solid Liberal?  Hmm.  Here's how Pew breaks down this voting block2:
What They Believe
  • Strongly pro-government and very liberal on a broad range of issues
  • Very supportive of regulation, environmental protection and government assistance to the poor
  • One of the most secular groups; 59% say that religion is not that important to them
  • Supportive of the country's growing racial and ethnic diversity
  • Two-thirds disagree with the Tea Party
Who They Are
  • Highly politically engaged
  • 75% are Democrats
  • Concentrated in the Northeast and West
  • 57% are female
  • Best educated of the groups: 49% hold at least a bachelor's degree and 27% have post-graduate experience
  • A third regularly listen to NPR, about two-in-ten regularly watch The Daily Show and read The New York Times
  • 59% have a passport
  • 42% regularly buy organic foods
  • 21% are first or second generation Americans

Shit, that is me.  I do listen to NPR, watch Jon Stewart, support diversity and tolerance, support an effective regulatory regime and social safety net, buy organic, have a passport, have a post-graduate degree, and am concentrated in the West.

But, here is where I depart from this categorization.  I am not a Democrat, nor female, nor a recent immigrant, and while I do think the Tea Party is a group of ignorant ass-hats that are dangerous to the body politic, I can't say that I wholly disagree with keeping the federal budget in reasonable check. (We still need to raise revenue, especially on the upper tax brackets.)  In fact, I even think that government is too complex and internecine to effectively carry out it's mission.  (What is the mission?  Well, that's another, even longer post.)  Now what do you think of this Solid Liberal?

I think the real source of the growing political divide is the onslaught of bad journalism (Roger Ailes, GFY!.  You too MSNBC.) on cable, people pigeon-holing themselves and others into falsely discrete categories.  Let's do a little gedanken experiment.  In the continuum of opinion, picture the two people exactly abutting the centerline.  They should be in agreement on nearly everything.  Let's assume then, that the person immediately to the right of the exact center of politics only watches Fox News and listens to fat, blowhards on the radio.  Now, the converse to his nearest left-hand neighbor.  She only watches MSNBC (and surprisingly hasn't committed hari kari) and listens to Air America.  Do you think they could have a civil public policy conversation?  I suspect they would be at each other's throats in ten minutes flat.

If we don't like the current state of politics, it's our fault.  We should rebel against the false tyranny of labels, stop patronizing toxic infotainment sources, and start talking to each other.  We will find out that most of us have way more in common with each other than Sean Hannity and Kieth Olbermann would let you believe.

1Source: http://www.people-press.org/typology/quiz/?result


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