Is the USA angry?

Even innocent questions occasionally provoke violent reactions. As is so often the case, this can be observed in a highly concentrated form in the indignation reactors, which someone once gave the misleading name "social media" a long time ago. A prototypical escalation from the question to an outburst goes something like this: someone posts a position on a politically explosive topic. The position expressed is characterized by a certain radicalism, insofar as it is not immediately understandable for those less involved and just provokes questions: How is that meant? What exactly is behind certain terms? The respondents then like to react with self-righteous outrage: It is not their job to enlighten the questioners, these ignorant idiots should piss themselves off to get information.

Anything that is not unconditional consent is considered an affront

Such small scenes can be read as an example of how divided at least the users of social media are. Ultimately, behind the response of the respondents is the attitude that anything that is not unconditional approval of their position is tantamount to an affront - as if it were proof that all counter-attitudes are motivated by baseness, malice and delusion. Now nobody should confuse social media with so-called real life. And yet the digital chambers of anger make it clear what also takes place in analogue life: there are increasingly irreconcilable political camps facing each other, grateful for every occasion.

The political scientists Heather Ondercin and Mary Lizotte have just verified this in a large sample for the USA and the results in the specialist journal American Politics Research published. In it, the researchers trace for the period from 1980 to 2016 how the animosity of the political camps in the USA has steadily intensified. They also present a surprising finding: According to this, there is a somewhat greater degree of affective polarization among women than among men. The reason for this lies in the fact that "women maintain more solid camp identities," write the scientists. According to Ondercin and Lizotte, women identify more and more with a political side than men, who a little more often described themselves as politically independent.

It is known from other studies that women actually define themselves more through group identities than men and also have a somewhat more pronounced in-group bias - they therefore prefer the members of their own camp or their own group over others. Of course, it must always be emphasized that such findings are average values ​​from which no statements about the attitudes and behavior of individuals can be derived. In addition, it should be emphasized that the differences between the sexes are, as almost always, rather small. Nevertheless, they are interesting, they are anti-intuitive, camp thinking is more likely to be imputed to men.

According to Ondercin and Lizotte, the gender polarization gap emerged in the 1990s and expanded into the current phase of increasingly irreconcilable opposition between the Democrats and Republicans in the United States. Compared to men, "women are now a little more hostile towards supporters of the political opposite side," the scientists write. The comparison between the supporters of the two major US parties is also surprising. The difference in affective polarization between Democratic supporters is greater than that between Republican women and men. Basically, one can say with certainty about the USA at the moment: Regardless of gender, supporters of both camps find each other pretty stupid there.

The opinion of the other side is dismissed as malice or stupidity

"Political polarization increasingly threatens the continued existence of democratic institutions," wrote psychologists around Michael Schwalbe and Lee Ross in a recent journal PNAS published study. In it, the scientists from Stanford University trace the thinking behind the term (affective) polarization. The debates of the US presidential election campaign in 2016 showed in various analyzes that it did not matter what the candidates said, but only who said something.

Your own camp is therefore almost always right, almost irrespective of what is being said. The others, however, are blinded: their opinions and statements are disgraced as the result of malice and stupidity. Both sides don’t give each other anything, and many studies have shown that again and again: followers adjust their view of things or so-called reality across the political spectrum to suit them. Behind this is the all too human assumption that one cultivates a halfway objective view of the world, how could it be otherwise? And if someone then dares to question this view or even to ask what exactly is meant, he gets to feel the anger of the self-righteous.