A new report suggests that fears of an incoming civil war may be overblown
Is the US headed for another for another Civil War? It’s worrying that we even have to ask the question, but the possibility has been seriously by the Washington Post, Foreign Policy and the Brookings Institution. Even director Ken Burns believes that the country is in a pre-Civil War environment.
An infamous feature of civil conflict is that it turns brother against brother and children against their parents. Fortunately, that’s not the norm in America. According to new findings from the Institute for Family Studies, most American families are not being torn apart by politics. Drawing on data from the American National Election Study, Samuel J. Abrams points out that when asked how much political differences have hurt their relationships with family members 66% of respondents said “not at all” and a further 18% no more than “a little”. Just 6% said “a great deal” or “a lot”.
Of course, that still means that 1 in 6 Americans report more than a little political damage to their family relationships. Some families will find any excuse to shout at each other, nevertheless it would be deeply unhealthy if political rows became a growing trend in familial bust-ups.
As for the majority of Americans who don’t row with their relatives about politics, might that be because most of them just don’t care? Probably not, because, as Abrams says, “the vast majority of strong Democrats (79%) and of strong Republicans (85%) report little to no impact” on their family relationships.
But, hang on, could that mean that the country is now so polarised that families have become political monocultures? This would require further research, but differences in party affiliation between the generations (and, to a lesser extent, the sexes) would suggest many if not most families are politically mixed.
That would be a good thing, because research suggests that political intolerance is associated not with ignorance of ‘the facts’, but with not knowing people who think differently from you.
Polling for More in Common has found that most Americans are fed up with the politics of division. For instance, the great majority of them oppose both political correctness and hate speech. This doesn’t mean that American politics itself isn’t becoming more polarised. Clearly it is — whether in Congress, the media or other arenas of ideological conflict.
However, ordinary citizens don’t live their lives politically. Typically, they treat other people as people not as ‘issues’ — as is normal for human beings in non-totalitarian societies.
For political obsessives, this might be the most disturbing truth of all.