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Staying Out of the “Ideological Silo”

I found Pew Research Center’s most recent study Political Polarization in the American Public quite fascinating. It’s a lengthy, graphic-laden piece about “How Increasing Ideological Uniformity and Partisan Antipathy Affect Politics, Compromise and Everyday Life.”

There’s much to think about regarding the findings. The overall gist is that, politically speaking, America has grown even more polarized. Not a surprise.

Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades. These trends manifest themselves in myriad ways, both in politics and in everyday life. And a new survey of 10,000 adults nationwide finds that these divisions are greatest among those who are the most engaged and active in the political process.

This group — “those who are the most engaged and active in the political process” — is most important to understand. First, because they often shape the debate and its tone. They are the most informed, politically active, partisan of any group. Secondly, however, they are also a minority, comprising only 21% total of Americans.

About one-in-five Americans (21%) are now either consistently liberal (12%) or consistently conservative (9%) in their political values, up from just one-in-ten in 2004 (11%) and 1994 (10%).

While this group of consistent ideolgues is growing, those in the Middle, in the “partisan gap,” remain the largest group in America.

To be sure, those with across-the-board liberal or conservative views remain in the minority; most Americans continue to express at least some mix of liberal and conservative attitudes.

If this is true, then why do the vocal partisans seem to dominate the news and the political process? If only one-fifth of Americans are on the polarized fringe (Left or Right), why do they seem to dominate the discussion?

Two reasons. First, those in the “ideological middle” tend to be politically apathetic and much less politically active than their fringe counterparts.

…those who express ideologically consistent views have disproportionate influence on the political process: They are more likely than those with mixed views to vote regularly and far more likely to donate to political campaigns and contact elected officials.

…many of those in the center remain on the edges of the political playing field, relatively distant and disengaged, while the most ideologically oriented and politically rancorous Americans make their voices heard through greater participation in every stage of the political process.

In other words, it’s that 21% of rabid partisans that drive most of the debate. But secondly, those on the polarized fringes are more given to propaganda and less open to compromise and opposing POV’s, making the Middle all the more anemic. Much of this is due to an echo chamber effect. Or to put it another way,

“Ideological silos” are now common on both the left and right.

The ideological silo is that community of like-minded believers that gather around partisan watering holes. Whether it’s a website, a TV network, a pundit, an online community, an organization, or a news outlet, these “silos” dispense the kindling which fuels its minority army. The ideological silo is where one can go to get mobilized for action and informed about the latest bogie man. All the while, the majority of less partisan Americans look on, disillusioned by the rhetoric dispensed on both sides.

While the Pew article suggests that the engagement of the Middle is the key to more healthy politics, I can’t help but feel that for some of us, less feeding at the trough of those “ideological silos” is a step in the right direction. Perhaps, instead of gravitating to those “news sources” and pundits who simply affirm everything you believe, and/or want to believe, entertaining an opposing view would do us all some good. Ideological silos exist to reinforce and further some status quo, or at least, to demonize its competitors. Less consumption of the product these mills are providing could go a long way to empowering the Middle, if not shrinking the fringe.

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • SherryT July 10, 2014, 8:07 PM

    Mike, you score 100 out of 100 here. Thanks for the article and for your input.

  • Alan R Joiner July 11, 2014, 5:37 AM

    Mike, it’s interesting… This past Sunday, as we came to the Beatitudes, I taught on a very similar subject. The most powerful times in the church’s history have been when we were persecuted. The most troubling times have been when we have become a political agent. I think the church has lost its power to a degree, and also its cultural influence because we see ourselves as a political institution.

    Jesus didn’t die to found a political organization. He didn’t die to set up theocracies. The early church didn’t try to overthrow Rome. I don’t see anywhere in Acts where they were boycotting temple prostitution, idolatry, etc… I see them introducing people to a Person through humble, meek, changed lives. I see changed lives begetting changed lives. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t see them setting up a theocracy and mandating Christian morals through external legislation. I see them trusting the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives from the inside out.

    Don’t try to control the sinners. Save the sinners. What we need is revival; that comes by the Holy Spirit through a church that is salt and light– not legislation.

    My thoughts: We live in a Republic Democracy, so Christians have a right and responsibility to vote our conscience. But what would happen if we (the ‘Christian Right’) got off of the evening news, out of the screaming line with signs and placards, and started living out the beatitudes to an unsaved world? Admitting that we are spiritually bankrupts, but for the righteousness given us by Christ… Mourning the state of those who have not been reconciled… Living meekly, relying not on agenda but on the inheritance from God… Giving up our rights instead of enforcing them… Making sure that if we are badmouthed, it is either lies or due to the fact that we look like Jesus…

    I wonder if this would make things less polarizing, and I wonder if God would call His church to make the first move.

    Reading Matthew 5, I think He already has.

  • Dawn Wessel July 11, 2014, 10:10 AM

    But the church ‘is’ political. It has a ‘corporate’ structure, which is a worldly system of rule. It may appear more benevolent but the structure of authority is no different.

    The title is not meant in any way to be irreverent (I am changing it shortly) and I think you will understand why I have titled it as I have after you read what I have to say:
    ‘The Other Bible: And the God I call Bob’ at authonomy.com.

  • Nissa Annakindt July 12, 2014, 5:07 AM

    The Early Church may not have been doing modern-day political protests against the evils of the day, but they were speaking out about them. I think there was a very early Christian document which spoke out against abortion and the exposure of infants (infanticide).
    While Christianity isn’t a political party, there is more and more in politics that Christians need to pay attention to, now that it has become so socially acceptable to bash Christianity, characterize Christians as haters, and try to force Christians to pay for other folks’ abortion/contraception pills and devices.

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