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Charts: America’s Political Divide, 1994–2017

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Political Polarization

Original animation from Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 2017).

Charts: America’s Political Divide, From 1994–2017

Politics can be a hot button topic in America. With rising tensions on both sides of the political spectrum, some claim that bipartisanship is dead. Recent research shows that may well be true.

Today’s charts come from a report by the independent think tank Pew Research on the partisan divide between the two major U.S. political parties, Democrats and Republicans.

The data is based on surveys of over 5,000 adults to gauge public sentiment, tracking the dramatic shifts in political polarization in the U.S. from 1994 to 2017. The results are a fascinating deep dive into America’s shifting political sentiment.

Over Two Decades of Differences

The animation above demonstrates how the political divide by party has grown significantly and consistently over 23 years. In 1994, the general public was more mixed in their allegiances, but a significant divergence started to occur from 2011 onward.

By 2017, the divide had significantly shifted towards the two extremes of the consistently liberal/conservative scale. Median Democrat and Republican sentiment also moved further apart, especially for politically engaged Americans.

How have Americans’ feelings across major issues evolved over time?

NOTE: For brevity, any mention of Democrats and Republicans in the post below will also refer to survey respondents who “lean Democratic/ lean Republican”.

Americans on the Economy

Americans on the Economy

Original charts from Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 2017).

Several survey questions were designed to assess Americans’ perceptions of the economy. Surprisingly, between 60–70% of Democrats and Republicans agree that U.S. involvement in the global economy is positive, because it provides the country with access to new markets.

However, they diverge when asked about the fairness of the economic system itself. 50% of Republicans think it is fair to most Americans, but 82% of Democrats think it unfairly favors powerful interests.

Finally, 73% of Democrats think corporations make ‘too much’ profit, while only 43% of Republicans think so. Since 1994, Democrats have become more convinced of this point, gaining 10 percentage points (p.p.), while Republican impressions have fluctuated marginally.

Americans on the Environment

Americans on the Environment

Original charts from Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 2017).

When it comes to climate change, both Democrats and Republicans see that there is growing evidence for global warming, but they are not sold on the reasons why. 78% of Democrats see human activity as the cause, while only 24% of Republicans agree.

Americans also disagree on whether stricter sustainability laws are worth the cost—77% of Democrats think so, but only 36% of Republicans are on the same page. The position of Democrats on this issue has increased by 11 p.p. since 1994, but dropped by double (22 p.p.) for Republicans during this time.

Americans on the Government

Americans on the Government

Original charts from Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 2017).

Americans are highly concerned about the U.S. presence on the global stage. Over half (56%) of Democrats think the U.S. should be active in world affairs, while 54% of Republicans think such attention should be focused inward instead of overseas.

This filters into what they consider the best strategy for peace—83% of Democrats believe in democracy to achieve this, while only 33% of Republicans agree, preferring military strength instead. Democrats have cemented their position on diplomacy by 17 p.p. since 1994, growing the political divide.

Americans on Their Society

Americans on their Society

Original charts from Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 2017).

On several social issues, both parties have become more liberal in their opinions over the decades, especially on immigration and homosexuality. Democrats have seen the biggest advancement on their views of immigration, from 32% in favor in 1994, to 84% in 2017.

However, there’s still a wide partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans on their ideas of government aid (51 p.p. gap), racial equality (45 p.p. gap), immigration (42 p.p. gap), and homosexuality (29 p.p. gap).

Americans on Each Other

Americans on Each Other

Original charts from Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 2017).

It’s evident that not only does the American public hold less of a mix of liberal and conservative values, but the center of this political divide has also moved dramatically on both ends of the spectrum. In simple terms, it means that Americans are less willing to consider the other side of debates, preferring to stay entrenched in the group think of their political affiliation.

Not only this, but partisan animosity is on the rise—81% of Republicans and Democrats find those belonging to the other party equally unfavorable. In fact, both parties have seen a 28 p.p. increase in ‘very unfavorable’ views of people in the other party, compared to 1994.

Can the Rift be Repaired?

While the above data on group polarization ends in 2017, it’s clear that the repercussions continue to have ripple effects into today and the future. These differences mean there is no consensus on the nation’s key priorities.

In 2019, Republicans believe that terrorism, the economy, social security, immigration, and the military should be top of mind, while Democrats refer to healthcare, education, environment, Medicare, and the poor and needy as their leads.

With Trump’s presidential term up for contest in 2020, the lack of common ground on pressing issues will continue to cause a stir among both Democratic and Republican bases. Is there anything Americans will be willing to cross the aisle for?

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Politics

Visualizing the True Size of Land Masses from Largest to Smallest

Maps can distort the size and shape of countries. This visualization puts the true size of land masses together from biggest to smallest.

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The True Size of Land Masses from Largest to Smallest

Is Greenland the size of the entire African continent?

No…

But looking at a map based on the Mercator projection, you would think so.

Today’s infographic comes from the design studio Art.Lebedev and shows the true size of the world’s land masses in order from largest to smallest using data from NASA and Google.

Check out the actual shape and size of each land mass without any distortions.

Distorting Reality: Mercator Misconceptions

Maps can deceive your eyes but they are still powerful tools for specific purposes. In 1569, the legendary cartographer, Gerardus Mercator, created a new map based on a cylindrical projection of sections of the Earth. These types of maps were suited for nautical navigation since every line on the sphere is a constant course, or loxodrome.

Despite the map’s nautical utility, the Mercator projection has an unwanted downside. The map type increases the sizes of land masses close to the poles (such as in North America, Europe, or North Asia) as a side effect. As a result, Canada and Russia appear to take up approximately 25% of the Earth’s surface, when in reality these nations only occupy 5%.

“Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many.” – Phaedrus

This collection of images above represents the world’s land masses in their correct proportions. Measurements are based on Google Maps 2016 and NASA Earth Observatory maps, with calculations based on the WGS84 reference ellipsoid, or more simply, a specific model of the Earth’s shape in two dimensions.

We take for granted Google Maps and satellite imaging. Making these accurate representations is no small task – the designers went through six steps and many different iterations of the graphic.

Countries are arranged by descending size and shown without external or dependent territories. For example, the total area for the contiguous United States shown does not include Hawaii, Alaska, or overseas territories.

Top 10 Largest Land Masses

Although Mercator maps distort the size of land masses in the Northern Hemisphere, many of these countries still cover massive territories.

JurisdictionArea (km²)
Russia16,440,626
Antarctica12,269,609
China9,258,246
Canada8,908,366
Brazil8,399,858
United States (contiguous)7,654,643
Australia7,602,329
India3,103,770
Argentina2,712,060
Kazakhstan2,653,464

The top 10 land masses by size account for 55% of the Earth’s total land. The remainder is split by the world’s 195 or so other countries.

Top 10 Smallest Land Masses

Here are the 10 tiniest jurisdictions highlighted on the map:

JurisdictionArea (km²)
Sealand0.001
Kingman Reef0.002
Vatican City0.5
Kure Atoll0.9
Tromelin Island1
Johnston Atoll1
Baker Island1
Howland Island2
Monaco2
Palmyra Atoll3

While the Earth’s land surface has been claimed by many authorities, the actual impact of human activity is less than one would think.

Human Impact: Humbled by Nature

Political borders have claimed virtually every piece of land available. Despite this, only 20% of land on the planet has been visibly impacted by human activity, and only 15% of Earth’s land surface is formally under protection.

The remaining 80% of the land hosts natural ecosystems that help to purify air and water, recycle nutrients, enhance soil fertility, pollinate plants, and break down waste products. The value of maintaining these services to the human economy is worth trillions of U.S. dollars each year.

While some nations are not as big as they look on the map, every piece of land counts.

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Politics

11 Cognitive Biases That Influence Political Outcomes

Humans are hardwired to make mental mistakes called cognitive biases. Here are common biases that can shape political opinion, and even elections.

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Cognitive Biases in the Political Arena

With the 2020 U.S. presidential election fast approaching, many people will be glued to the 24-hour news cycle to stay up to date on political developments. Yet, when searching for facts, our own cognitive biases often get in the way.

If this isn’t problematic enough, third parties can also take advantage of these biases to influence our thinking. The media, for example, can exploit our tendency to assign stereotypes to others by only providing catchy, surface-level information. Once established in our minds, these generalizations can be tough to shake off.

Such tactics can have a powerful influence on public opinion if applied consistently to a broad audience. To help us avoid these mental pitfalls, today’s infographic from PredictIt lists common cognitive biases that influence the realm of politics, beginning with the “Big Cs”.

The First C: Confirmation Bias

People exhibit confirmation bias when they seek information that only affirms their pre-existing beliefs. This can cause them to become overly rigid in their political opinions, even when presented with conflicting ideas or evidence.

When too many people fall victim to this bias, progress towards solving complex sociopolitical issues is thwarted. That’s because solving these issues in a bipartisan system requires cooperation from both sides of the spectrum.

A reluctance towards establishing a common ground is already widespread in America. According to a 2019 survey, 70% of Democrats believed their party’s leaders should “stand up” to President Trump, even if less gets done in Washington. Conversely, 51% of Republicans believed that Trump should “stand up” to Democrats.

In light of these developments, researchers have conducted studies to determine if the issue of confirmation bias is as prevalent as it seems. In one experiment, participants chose to either support or oppose a given sociopolitical issue. They were then presented with evidence that was conflicting, affirming, or a combination of both.

In all scenarios, participants were most likely to stick with their initial decisions. Of those presented with conflicting evidence, just one in five changed their stance. Furthermore, participants who maintained their initial positions became even more confident in the superiority of their decision—a testament to how influential confirmation bias can be.

The Second C: Coverage Bias

Coverage bias, in the context of politics, is a form of media bias where certain politicians or topics are disproportionately covered. In some cases, media outlets can even twist stories to fit a certain narrative.

For example, research from the University of South Florida analyzed media coverage on President Trump’s 2017 travel ban. It was discovered that primetime media hosts covered the ban through completely different perspectives.

Each host varied drastically in tone, phrasing, and facts of emphasis, […] presenting each issue in a manner that aligns with a specific partisan agenda.

—Josepher, Bryce (2017)

Charting the ideological placement of each source’s audience can help us gain a better understanding of the coverage bias at work. In other words, where do people on the left, middle, and right get their news?

cognitive bias in media and politics

The horizontal axis in this graphic corresponds to the Ideological Consistency Scale, which is composed of 10 questions. For each question, respondents are assigned a “-1” for a liberal response, “+1” for a conservative response, or a “0” for other responses. A summation of these scores places a respondent into one of five categories:

Ideological CategoryRanking
Consistently conservative+7 to +10
Mostly conservative+3 to +6
Mixed-2 to +2
Mostly liberal-6 to -3
Consistently liberal -10 to -7

Overcoming coverage bias—which dovetails into other biases like confirmation bias—may require us to follow a wider variety of sources, even those we may not initially agree with.

The Third C: Concision Bias

Concision bias is a type of bias where politicians or the media selectively focus on aspects of information that are easy to get across. In the process, more nuanced and delicate views get omitted from popular discourse.

A common application of concision bias is the use of sound bites, which are short clips that can be taken out of a politician’s speech. When played in isolation, these clips may leave out important context for the audience.

Without the proper context, multi-faceted issues can become extremely polarizing, and may be a reason for the growing partisan divide in America. In fact, there is less overlap in the political values of Republicans and Democrats than ever previously measured.

In 1994, just 64% of Republicans were more conservative than the median Democrat. By 2017, that margin had grown considerably, to 95% of Republicans. The same trend can be found on the other end of the spectrum. Whereas 70% of Democrats were more liberal than the median Republican in 1994, this proportion increased to 97% by 2017.

Overcoming Our Biases

Achieving full self-awareness can be difficult, especially when new biases emerge in our constantly evolving world. So where do we begin?

Simply remembering these mental pitfalls exist can be a great start—after all, we can’t fix what we don’t know. Individuals concerned about the upcoming presidential election may find it useful to focus their attention on the Big Cs, as these biases can play a significant role in shaping political beliefs. Maintaining an open mindset and diversifying the media sources we follow are two tactics that may act as a hedge.

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