Different Without Disagreement: Understanding Polarization in the United States
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A prevailing belief is that Americans hold a shared set of values that finds expression in and is informed by our nation’s founding documents. It is puzzling, then, to acknowledge that the United States is more polarized now than at any time since Reconstruction. Our research examined possible explanations for the tension between Americans holding a shared set of values and their being highly polarized, especially concerning the following issues: abortion, capital punishment, gun control, and same-sex marriage. We found evidence that suggests there could be two types of polarization: substantive and superficial. Based on a metric we term ‘scattering,’ a measure of consensus regarding the most pertinent value for a given issue, we argue that polarization on capital punishment and gun control is substantive, while polarization on abortion and same-sex marriage is merely superficial. We argue that substantive polarization is to be preferred to superficial polarization.