This week, the University of Virginia Center for Politics released a poll surveying Americans’ feelings about their political opponents. According to the poll, 80% of Biden voters and 84% of Trump voters believed that elected officials of the opposite party present a “clear and present danger to American democracy”; 78% of Biden voters believed that the Republican Party wanted to eliminate the influence of “progressive values” in American life, while 87% of Trump voters believed that the Democrats wanted to eliminate “traditional values”; 75% of Biden voters and 78% of Trump voters believed that the opposing party’s supporters were a “clear and present danger to the American way of life.”
These statistics are, of course, alarming. The popular theory these days is that willingness by both Democrats and Republicans to abandon democratic norms — election result acceptance, checks and balances, due process of law and all the rest — is purely the result of reactionary dislike. If you fear your neighbor is going to abuse the process, you’d be a fool to stick to the process — and the more we dislike our neighbors, the more we fear that they’ll take advantage of us.
But is this theory correct? Is polarization actually the reason for increased willingness to ditch democratic norms?