Nine in 10 people today believe that America is more divided than at any other point in their lifetime. Yet despite pronounced differences across race, geography, education, and class, Americans generally tend to overestimate the prevalence of extreme views held by those with differing political views (“the other side”) on key issues like race, immigration, and policing.
According to a recent study conducted by More In Common, the nonprofit that studies polarization in an effort to build more resilient societies (and also a key partner to One Small Step), the discrepancy is startling. In their report entitled The Perception Gap, Americans have a deeply inaccurate understanding of each other. The Perception Gap refers to the difference between one side’s actual beliefs and the other side’s perceptions of those beliefs. In other words, each side thinks the other is way more extreme than they are, because they associate the other side with the most extreme version of them.
On the topic of racism, for example, Democrats believe that nearly half of Republicans deny it even exists. The actual percentage is 21 percent.
Democrats’ Perception Gap
Republicans’ Perception Gap
“Reducing perception gaps is important because fear of the other side is such a major reason for excusing rule-breaking, violence, and extremism on your own side,” More In Common founder Tim Dixon said.
The wider a person’s perception gap, the likelier they are to describe the other side as “hateful,” “racist,” or “brainwashed.”
What you can do to overcome perception gaps:
- Recognize your echo chamber. We gravitate to like-minded people, and consume news sources that align with our perspectives—there’s nothing wrong with that! However, it’s critical that we question whether we’re hearing what is objectively true, or just something we prefer to hear.
- Be an ambassador for humanity. Research shows that people are more likely to sympathize with the other side if someone from their own political group does it first.
- Consider participating in One Small Step. Anyone in the US can pair up in a 50-minute conversation with someone who holds different beliefs. Sign up to be matched.
In times of heightened tension and violence—especially when there is growing mistrust of national news outlets—One Small Step pairs two people with opposing viewpoints, so they can begin to get to know each other as people and restore trust—one conversation at a time.