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How can Democrats and Republicans understand each other?

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Over the past few weeks, we've written a couple of times about ClearerThinking founder Spencer Greenberg's research into American political polarization, as well as tactics for people to develop empathy and understanding for those who fall on the other side of the partisan divide. We consider this second point especially important; as frustrating and difficult as it can be to appreciate your political adversaries' perspective, doing so is incredibly important for a variety of reasons, even if you'll never agree with them on the merits. These reasons include:

  • It's broadly valuable to develop a thorough understanding of what the American populace is like and how they think about politics.

  • Members of both sides of the American partisan divide have legitimate grievances; addressing those grievance with policy requires understanding what they are and why they matter to the people that hold them.

  • If you are interested in advancing your own political cause, it's vital to understand the opposition so that you can work on changing their minds.

  • Empathy between differing political groups helps national cohesion and serves as a bulwark against wide-scale political violence.

This kind of empathy can be consciously developed with practice. To aid this practice, we've compiled two short essays that summarize the perspectives of each of these two major voting blocs, which you can see below. Whichever side you find yourself most drawn to, we recommend reading the essay describing the opposing viewpoint — you may come away from it with more empathy and appreciation for its concerns, even if you still don't agree with them.

How can we tell that these essays accurately portray the perspectives of Clinton and Trump voters? After compiling them, we had 80 supporters from each group read the essays describing their own side's views, and rate whether they agreed or disagreed with each sentence, and also whether they agreed with the essay overall.

At least 50% of the corresponding group agreed with each individual sentence in both essays (see color coding), and there were high levels of overall agreement from the relevant group with each essay as a whole (see the bottom of the infographic - 84% overall agreement for the Clinton essay, 94% for the Trump essay, though the subjects were not from a nationally representative sample). Make sure to click on the graphic to see a full-size version. (If you'd like to learn more about these ideas, check out this Fast Company article about our work.)

republican versus democrat chart

If you liked this article, we invite you to try our political test to expand your policy knowledge and to learn to spot political biases.

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