SurveyMonkeying Around

One of the most exciting pieces of my project for me is being able to learn from other people Nick; standing with luggage about how their values and opinions have been formed into what they are today, gaining insight into their lives. In one week I will begin traveling to a few locations around the United States to talk with both politicians and everyday people about how politics has influenced their lives and ethical decision-making. My first stop will be a rural town in Indiana, called Warsaw, which is about two hours away from Indianapolis. The
following week I will be flying to Las Vegas, Nevada, where I will stay for a few days. After Las Vegas, I will travel to Los Angeles for the final leg of the trip. Later in July, I will visit Dallas, Texas for more interviews. I chose these locations in hope there will be diversity in political ideologies and within the populations themselves. I think Warsaw, which is a much more conservative and less populated city than the other cities, will provide a small-town perspective that the others won’t have. Dallas and Las Vegas, though, while much larger in population, are cites that seem to have a fair mix of political variety. I think it’s important to note that when I talk about cities leaning one way or another on the political spectrum, I mean that those places have historically voted in that way. That being said, I’m looking to talk to people who both go with the political grain and those who go against it.

When watching the TV news or reading articles about current events, words like “divisive” and “polarized” have stuck out to me in describing the current state of politics. I would agree with this assessment, but I want to know not only why people feel this way, but when these feelings began to be so seemingly ubiquitous (see my last paragraph for more on this). With my ultimate goal being to create a short film abouthow politics influences people’s lives and values through an ethical lens, one of my first steps in this process is to collect data in order to find questions that will help me construct a narrative reflective of the data I collect. The data from this survey will hopefully be my first key to understanding why in today’s world it can sometimes be hard to see the humanity in people on the other side of the political discussion.

In just one week of my survey being live, I received over 300 responses, with respondents from 22 different states ranging in age from 18 to 85. One of the problems I have noticed initially, however, was an uneven amount of responses demographically. So far, 75% of the responses are from women, and only 20% are from people who identify as republicans. This doesn’t surprise me because of the people I have reached out to. But my hope is to reach out to more conservatives and male-identifying people to ultimately receive a relatively equal amount of responses in terms of political affiliation, so the data aren’t skewed in one particular way.

The results I have gotten so far seem to show a few patterns. In one part of my survey, I present a list of 23 morals, such as “be kind,” “take responsibility for your actions,” “tell the truth,” “don’t judge others,” etc. and ask respondents to select all they try to incorporate into their everyday ethical decision-making. And interestingly, for every single answer, almost all of the choices were well over 70% chosen with the exception of “don’t gossip” (52%) and “be courageous” (63%). The reason why I included this in my survey is because when I think of politics, I don’t associate it with morals.

This was one of my first questions in the survey to prime respondents so that they might be more likely to consider their morals when answering the next question, which deals with particular actions politicians have done. The respondents were to read a scenario of a given politician and decide whether they could or could not justify the politicians’ actions. However, I designed the questions so that the scenarios were actually fictional to see if people were favoring politicians of the same affiliation when answering the question. From looking at these results, I noticed they were heavily leaning in favor of the democrats, confirming my hypothesis about bias, but I want to wait for more responses from conservatives to even out the results before I make more observations about that question.

Perhaps the most interesting result from the survey I noticed so far is the two questions that follow the previous one. The first of the two asked, “In the previous section, were you biased when choosing your answers in favor of the political party with which you identify?” to which only 15% of people answered yes. But for the next one “Do you think that people are inherently predisposed to be in favor of their political party affiliation over the person’s actual stances?”, 84% of people answered yes. These responses seemed to contradict each other in my mind, but they really highlight an interesting psychological phenomenon. It shows the idea of “better than average bias” where people are more likely to see themselves as better than the average person when it comes to a particular issue. This is one of the things that I personally believe is at the heart of understanding why politics can be so divisive.

In one of the final questions of my survey, I ask respondents to select all that apply true for them for various statements such as “having a variety of news sources is important to me,” “being politically active is important to me,” “my political values change frequently,” etc. What I found surprising and not surprising at the same time was that 90% chose “I dislike the current state of politics” and 92% chose “I think the current state of politics is divisive.” When writing the question, I figured many people would state that they were unsatisfied with how things are going, but I was expecting results to be in the 70-80% range; what also surprised me was that 87% of responses from republicans stated they disliked the current state of politics when many of them voted for the president currently running the country. As I explore my research topic more deeply and begin interviewing people across the country, I want to understand what it is that contributes to this overwhelming disliking of the state of American politics.

I’m looking forward to beginning my travels next week, where I will start off in Indiana!

Choosing to See the Humanity in the Elephant

camera lenses“America’s getting to a place where it feels like it is extremely divided along partisan lines, and conversations have shifted to a point where human beings no longer see a human being on the other side of the discussion.”

When I heard Trevor Noah say this in an interview with Oprah, I thought to myself “This is exactly what I want to figure out.” Why is politics such a source of conflict? Why can it bring out the nasty side in people? And why do people tend to stand behind political parties and politicians so firmly?

I have no desire to become a politician or to study political science or public policy, yet politics is something I’m curious about – not because it’s such a widely discussed issue in the United States, but because there seems to be fascinating psychology behind the way it impacts and influences people. One of the reasons I wanted to do my project on this topic was because in addition to seeing first-hand how people can demonize others solely based on their political opinions, I’ve personally been a perpetrator of hatefulness on the basis of politics. In my opinion, a contributing factor to this animosity is a stubbornness and an unwillingness to look past one’s biases; as a result, part of my project aims to look at how people’s political biases affect their daily lives.

So I’ll start of by stating my biases: I’m a democrat, and I grew up in a liberal household in a conservative city. I grew up biased against republicans and for what they stood. Although I knew very little about the two parties’ platforms on various issues, I admittedly just adopted the same mentality of my parents. When I was in middle school, politics wasn’t something any of my peers really talked about in school; there was an implicit understanding that everybody aligned to a particular party (nearly always the one their parents supported), but you would never hear of middle schoolers getting into an argument about why they thought the Iraq War was necessary or not. At the same time, though, I understood that almost all of my peers were republicans, and I couldn’t help but let that influence my perceptions of them. Even though at that age politics was something that was nearly always out of sight, it still negatively impacted the way I saw the people around me because I perceived their views to be wrong in some capacity. Looking back, to an extent, I subconsciously believed myself to be morally superior to them, which created negative feelings toward them.

As I got older, and when people my age began being vocal about politics, my negative feelings toward republicans intensified. Why? When I was younger, though it affected my perceptions of them, I could largely ignore the fact that my peers had different political affiliations from me. But I got the impression from adults and media that when it came to politics, there was a right side and a wrong side. Things like learning why my parents refused to watch FOX News or why in their opinion some media outlets were better than others because they were skewed left, I picked up on the black-and-white nature of politics. My liberal upbringing, as a result, instilled in me that democrats were on the good side. And until my junior year in high school, I remained firm in that ideology, mainly because I got complacent in that mindset and could avoid conflict by keeping my views to myself. But in my junior year of high school (which was a boarding school), I roomed with a republican and could no longer avoid political confrontation. We would get into petty arguments or have late-night disagreements over issues like gun control, immigration, economic policies, and…the election. It was the year Donald Trump announced he would be running for president, Hillary Clinton launched her “I’m with her” campaign, and the 76 year-old Independent, Bernie Sanders, from Vermont won over the hearts of so many millennials. Hearing about why he thought Trump was a good person or why Clinton deserved to be imprisoned made me sick, and I was ready for the school year to be over so I wouldn’t have to room with him anymore.

By the end of my junior year, I came to the conclusion that donkeys and elephants just couldn’t be friends. I guess I was just too sick of being right and being morally superior. So I carried on with that attitude fully expecting Hillary Clinton to become president…until she didn’t. It was a slap in the face. But it was a necessary slap in the face for me. How ignorant of me to have thought my political opinions were more than opinions. For a long time I had a toxic mindset in which I viewed people with differing political views as wrong and inferior. There was nothing wrong with not wanting to be roommates with someone of differing political stances, but to me, the way I was mentally denigrating republicans on the sole basis of their political views didn’t align with my values. Taking time to reflect after the election, I realized I had the option to either continue letting people’s political stances overshadow my perception of them, or I could choose to see the humanity in the elephant.