Americans on each side imagine that almost twice as many people on the other side hold extreme views than actually do, scholars Daniel Yudkin, Stephen Hawkins and Tim Dixon explain in a new report, “The Perception Gap.” The survey, conducted by the nonpartisan organization More in Common and the polling firm YouGov, was taken just after the 2018 midterms.
Real and consequential differences separate Americans, but the more divided we get, the more mistakes we make. For example, Democrats estimate that about half of Republicans would admit that racism is still a problem in the United States, when in reality 79 percent of Republicans say so. Republicans, meanwhile, think fully half of Democrats would say that “most police are bad people.” The actual percentage is 15 percent.
Some amount of the time, we are fighting ghosts, not real people. And the more inaccurate our perceptions, the more likely we are to describe our opponents as “hateful” and “brainwashed,” the study found.