There are two ways to see politics in America. One is to focus on the political discourse as it unfolds on the news and on social media. There you see intense partisanship that seems to be tearing the country apart.
But there is another way to see America, as Yanna Krupnikov and John Barry Ryan explain in the NY Times:
The common view of American politics today is of a clamorous divide between Democrats and Republicans, an unyielding, inevitable clash of harsh partisan polarization.
But that focus obscures another, enormous gulf — the gap between those who follow politics closely and those who don’t. Call it the “attention divide.”
What we found is that most Americans — upward of 80 percent to 85 percent — follow politics casually or not at all.
Millions of Americans are on social media to talk about cars or share pictures of their grandchildren; on Twitter, 10% of users make 97% of the political posts.
On some issues the opinions of the non-involved mirror those of their parties, for example surveys find that all Republicans rank illegal immigration as a serious problem.
But on a number of other issues, we found that Americans fall much less neatly into partisan camps. For example, Democrats and Republicans who don’t follow politics closely believe that low hourly wages are one of the most important problems facing the country. But for hard partisans, the issue barely registers.
Partisan Republicans were most likely to say drug abuse was the most important problem facing the country. But less-attentive Republicans ranked it second to last, and they were also concerned about the deficit and divisions between Democrats and Republicans.
Among Democrats, the political junkies think the influence of wealthy donors and interest groups is an urgent problems. But less-attentive Democrats are 25 percentage points more likely to name moral decline as an important problem facing the country — a problem partisan Democrats never even mention.
I am not at all sure how to think about these findings. There are certainly Americans who hardly ever think about politics. Some of them don't vote; some do, but with a casualness that horrifies the politically involved. Looking over the numbers I conclude that many of them must be fairly strong partisans, since each part seems to have about 40% unwavering support. I suppose deciding on your party and always voting for its candidate is one way to minimize the amount you have to think about politics.
And here's the real question for me: do these people who are not involved, whose opinions are different from the loud partisans, form some kind of anchor that would help keep the country from sliding into civil war? Or would they, in their indifference, just be dragged along by the loud leaders of the side they have chosen?
And then this:
For partisans, politics is a morality play, a struggle of good versus evil. But most Americans just see two angry groups of people bickering over issues that may not always seem pressing or important.