I came across something interesting as I was preparing material for my upper-division course on public opinion this week. A few years ago, Diana Mutz published a book entitled Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative vs. Participatory Democracy. The “take-home” points from the book are as follows:
Compared to several other industrialized democracies, Americans rank dead last in terms of how often we engage in political discussion with people we disagree with. Less than 25% of us have regular political discussions that expose us to “cross-cutting” viewpoints that differ from our own.
The good news: those who do engage in “cross-cutting” discussion more frequently are more tolerant toward diverging opinions and tend to have stronger friendships and other forms of social bonds.
The bad news: those who engage in “cross-cutting” discussion more frequently are less likely to vote and participate in politics. She theorizes that exposure to conflicting viewpoints increases ambivalence toward political controversies and lessens the motivations to take action to do something about them.
To me, the most frightening conclusion of this is that those who are voting regularly and active in the public sphere are least likely to be receiving and considering alternative viewpoints.