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Just how polarized are we, really?

by AirTalk®

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A recent Gallup poll suggests United States President Barack Obama is the most polarizing president ever. Do you agree? Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

‘Tis the season for campaign slug fests, negative political ads and extreme rhetoric. Given all this, it’s easy to get the sense that Americans are more divided than ever. According to a new Gallup poll, the first three years of President Obama’s time in office were the most politically polarizing ever, in terms of the gap between how Democrats and Republicans viewed him.

In 2011, 80-percent of Dems approved of Obama’s job performance, compared to 12-percent of Republicans. That 68-percent gap is the fourth-highest on record, going back to the Eisenhower administration, the poll shows. An article in the Washington Post extrapolates “that the country is hardening along more and more strict partisan lines.”

But there are those who argue that the partisan differences in D.C., and reported on in the media, are not reflective of the general public. In fact, political polarization among the public has barely budged at all over the past 40 years, according to research presented this week at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in San Diego, California. Not only that, but people vastly overestimate how polarized Americans are – a tendency toward exaggeration that’s especially strong in the most extreme liberals and conservatives.


Does that mean we’re not as split it seems? If so, how does our perceived polarization impact the political process? Or is the so-called “Red-Blue divide” as bad as it appears – and getting worse? What – if anything – can be done about it?


Frank Newport, Editor-in-Chief for the Gallup Poll

John R. Chambers, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Florida; Lead Researcher of the study “False Polarization in the American Electorate”

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