As best as such things can be measured, partisan identity has now surpassed race, religion and which football team you root for as the key element that divides Americans, according to an online seminar conducted Thursday by the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.
The title of the event, “Democrats and Republicans Don’t Just Disagree — They Hate Each Other,” gave away the main finding in advance.
U of M political scientist Larry Jacobs moderated, and the speakers were political scientist Shanto Iyengar of Stanford University and National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru.
This is about Trump, but not just about Trump.
Years ago, polls started finding that, while the portion of U.S. parents who would be upset if their child married someone of a different race or religion was falling – and, by the way, they are still falling — the portion who would be upset if their child married someone of the “other” political party had started rising. And it is still rising.
In the 1960s and ’70s, the level of fear and loathing that was defined by party identification was much lower, but it’s been rising since the late 1980s and early 1990s. It’s now higher than any other factor, including race, Iyengar said, to the point that “partyism exceeds racism” and powerfully affects our social lives and our daily interactions.
In fact, he said, “the top predictor of who dates whom is political identification.”
As best as political science can measure, “animus is equal across party lines,” political scientist Shanto Iyengar said, meaning the disdain of Republicans for Democrats and vice versa is of similar size and intensity.
Partisan identity has become such a powerful element of overall identity that partisan rancor should be viewed not as any kind of show but as “real animosity based on real identity,” he said.
Ponnuru, a long-time conservative but a frequent Trump critic, agreed. Partisanship, and specifically negative partisanship (meaning the dislike of Republicans by Democrats and vice versa), is the major glue holding both parties together, he said.
In other words, Republicans disagree on many things, but the one thing they share is fear and loathing of Democrats. And vice versa. Those on each side of the partisan divide believe that their own side is larger than the other. If their side loses an election, which might challenge such a belief, the losing-side partisans are quick to assume the other side cheated.
Asking someone whether hydroxychloroquine can cure COVID-19 is not much different from asking them their partisan identification, Ponnuru said. He recalled that when, in front of Democrats, he stated the obvious truth that Hunter Biden profited mightily in his business dealings because of Joe Biden’s high-ranking political positions, the automatic response of Democrats is usually to bring up the business benefits to the Trump children of their surname.
Ponnuru couldn’t bring himself to vote for Trump, so he voted for Evan McMullin, a conservative never-Trumper who ran for president in 2016 on the Constitution Party ticket and gave Trump-averse conservatives a way to avoid voting for Trump.
But Ponnuru remarked that he was struck by how many people he knows who “voted for Trump with great trepidation” because of all the negative things they knew about Trump, but now, “having made that choice, don’t want to hear” negative stuff about what Trump says or does. They don’t want their noses rubbed in his flaws, Ponnuru said; “they just want reinforcement” that makes them feel OK about having voted for him.