Following the most divisive presidential election in recent memory, many of us have fallen into a permanent “winter break” mode. That is, no matter how strongly we hold our political views, we are holding our tongues even more strongly so as to not offend family and friends who may not agree, or to generally avoid often heated confrontation stemming from the still-raw political wounds of the past year.
We sit silent at holiday dinner tables, listening to aunts and uncles bash Clinton or Trump, Cooper or McCrory, only to return to the comfort of ideologically homogenous college campuses and complain about the ignorance of those we chose not to engage in political dialogue.
But if we truly want to repair the ripped fabric of American politics, our silence may as well be a pair of shears. Research on political behavior suggests that the silence of those of the minority opinion results in the strengthening of the majority view in those that already hold it, but the opposite is also true. Exposure to the explanations of viewpoints that are opposite our own allow us to better understand the rational used by our opponents, and, in turn, make us more open to political compromise.
According to work by Diana Mutz, a preeminent scholar of political communication at the University of Pennsylvania, political dialogue with those we are most familiar with has the most impact on our openness to political compromise. Talking to friends, family and neighbors is the best way we can close the widening gap of political polarization, an increasing trend evidenced by the number of people considering themselves to be extremely ideological more than doubling over the last two decades.
But problems exist even before we begin to attempt to increase our political engagement. Studies in political science suggest that self-segregation into like-minded communities is not a problem unique to college campuses. Increasingly, people live in neighborhoods that are home to more people who are ideologically similar. People are also marrying spouses of the same partisan persuasion at higher rates.