chapter  7
29 Pages

Can Civility and Deliberation Disrupt the Deep Roots of Polarization?

Attitudes Toward Muslim Americans as Evidence of Hyperpolarized Partisan Worldviews
WithJ. Cherie Strachan, Michael R. Wolf

The findings presented in this chapter will rely on a unique two-wave cross-sectional national study of the 2010 midterm election—with both waves fielded just as controversies about the “9–11 Mosque” and NPR’s decision to fire Juan Williams dominated cable and talk radio political programming—to assess the depth of party polarization in the United States. Unlike most Democrats, Republicans were much more willing to endorse political pundits who say negative things about Muslim Americans. As an ethnic/religious minority with distinct cultural traditions, Muslim Americans are an atypical U.S. out-group, one also often associated with terrorism and war. They are an especially likely target for scrutiny among Americans who fear both value-based and physical threats to the status quo, and as a result also a group perceived as deserving heightened protection from stereotyping and criticism from Americans who prioritize equality and protection of civil rights.

Hence the distinct partisan pattern in responses supports the claim that the most active rank-and-file partisans were deeply polarized by distinct cultural worldviews long before Trump’s success in 2016. Content analysis of open-ended reasons for endorsing such negative commentary toward Muslim Americans reveals such critics often fail to differentiate between Muslim Americans and Muslim terrorists, and that they overwhelmingly believe Muslim Americans represent a cultural and/or physical threat to the United States. The discussion will explore how far-left progressives’ refusal to entertain any discussion of these concerns likely exacerbates far-right conservatives’ fears. It will also address the need for creative deliberative and civility initiatives, and the need to widen the scope of political conflict to include less ideologically motivated moderates, in order to disrupt this deeply entrenched partisan polarization.