CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A new survey suggests that the nation is partisan and polarized to a dangerous degree – but that does not mean the effects are permanent.
The report, named “Democracy in Dark Times,” was conducted by the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture (IASC). In the months, weeks, and days leading up to the election, the team reached out to more than 2,000 Americans of all ages, races, and religions from across the country, asking them not just who they were voting for – but how they felt.
“We use the metaphor of the weather versus the climate,” IASC Survey Research Director Carl Bowman said. “The weather being a cold day or a warm day, the climate being broader trends, things that are set in motion.”
The study finds a nation divided on a variety of issues, both cultural and political.
“We couldn’t have imagined the extent of the differences,” Bowman explained. “Take something as simple as the question of systemic racism, and whether the country has a history of racism. You know, if you ask white evangelical protestants, two thirds say no, it doesn’t exist. If you turn to progressive Democrats or if you turn to minority group members, in particular, African-Americans, it’s basically not even a question.”
However, there are some areas of unity. While self-identified Republicans indicated they thought the media was dramatizing the pandemic to hurt President Trump, a small minority of Americans felt negatively about businesses requiring customers to wear masks.
“They see it as agenda driven and on the masks and Coronavirus. Yeah, they thought it was a clever way to go after Donald Trump,” Bowman said. “The one area of convergence was a couple of other questions regarding the coronavirus, mask wearing. What we found was that the majority of Americans, a pretty large majority, felt fine about stores requiring masks and requiring you to to put one on one before you go in the store.”
While the trend of cynicism and division has been years in the making, and will not turn around overnight, it’s not a problem that’s too far gone to solve.
“When we’re constantly being fed a cultural message, that the other side is the enemy, and that happens from both sides,” Bowman explained. “When when that’s the message everyone’s receiving, and that what that the reality they believe, is not real. It’s really hard to think about things like mutual respect, like coming together, like working for the common good. We work out of a conviction that that really needs to happen and it can begin with leadership.”