UW professor explains why modern politics can be divisive

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SEATTLE – Authorities said a shooting in Virginia on Wednesday morning that wounded a Republican congressman and four others may have had political motivations.

In our region there have also been instances of violence over political beliefs.  Around the dinner table, political talk can sometimes also be taboo.

So, how did we become so polarized?

Q13 News reached out to a political science professor at the University of Washington to share insight about what could be different that divides us so much these days.

When asked to describe the current climate of politics, Professor Mark Smith replied simply, “Not good, not good.”

“We seemed to have lost the sense that people have different ideas and values and we come together and try to hash things out,” he said. “We just don’t even want to hear the other side so we just wall ourselves off.”

Smith said the proliferation of fake news sources online helps many people find comfort in what they already believe rather than reaching out to better understand an opposing view.

“No matter what your own political values are, you probably do have something to learn from ‘the other side,’” said Smith. “Even you if you think they’re wrong on most things it’s extremely unlikely they’re wrong about everything.”

In a bipartisan study released this week, the Democracy Fund Voter Study suggests the largest gaps between Democrats and Republicans surround sensitive topics; people of color, immigration, Muslims, moral issues, economic equity and government intervention.

Smith believes the only way to move forward is to remind each other we’re not at war with ourselves, rather that we’re all part of the same community and talking out problems can still be effective.

“People lose out on the opportunity to learn when they refuse to even engage with someone with different ideas,” he said.

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