Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Daily connect: Self, Other, and Politics

A new study reports that voters in the United States are deeply divided. No surprise there. What is surprising is that it's not necessarily about policy differences. It goes deeper.

"Both Republicans and Democrats increasingly dislike, even loathe, their opponents," the study's abstract says. That's not a result of positions on policy, it says, but due to the nature of political campaigns in which "exposure to messages attacking the out-group reinforces partisans’ biased views of their opponents." 

In fact, The Daily Yonder, reports that if the political parties positions on immigration are presented to rural voters without identifying which party they represent, voters support the Democrats' position by 49-40 percent. But when the party labels are put on the same positions, it changes, and they support the Republican-labeled position 50-39 percent.

People are more likely to get their news from partisan news outlets and social media than they were a generation ago, and NPR report says. And Americans are increasingly likely to live among people who share similar partisan leanings, says Bill Bishop, who wrote a book called The Big Sort about this phenomenon.

Back in 1976, only about one-fourth of Americans (26.8 percent) lived in landslide counties, which Bishop defines as giving the Democratic or Republican presidential candidates margins of 20 percentage points or higher. By 2008, nearly half of Americans lived in landslide counties (47.6 percent).

Over the past 50 years, the percentage of people who said they'd be upset if their children married someone from the other party has jumped to 40 percent from 5 percent.

This runs counter to the Buddhist notion that all sentient beings are precious and valuable, that they share basic goodness or buddhanature or original mind -- even if it's buried deep under confusion. In tonglen, we practice exchanging self and other; we seek to see the person beneath the labels.

Tonight is the first presidential debate of the 2012 election. Can you listen without solidifying into a self that can't see the humanness of the other?

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