Nate Silver, blogger, and now author of The Signal and the Noise, was on NPR Fresh Air Weekend Addition this past weekend, and he spoke about the amount of information accessible to the general public in the information age–a lot. During his time on the show, he made mention of a parallel between the increase of information (mirroring the rise of the media) and the level of partisanship in Congress as well as the greater political culture in the US. I decided to explore.
I’m putting one assumption on the table: people can choose from numerous sources of news, they don’t always choose the best, look at all the facts, and sometimes they even look at the facts that support their own opinion so they can tout it with more fervor. This is where I think the issue of partisanship stems. As the amount and availability of information grew, our natural biases towards one mindset or another narrowed our desire to comb through mass amounts of data. This is compounded by the media, who, for different reasons, tend to skew data towards particular political parties (see the Economist article at the end of this post). Since we also choose our news, we reinforce the information we have decided to absorb.
How does this play into politics? Well, politicians are people, too (no, really). They have another issue, a feedback loop involving constituents. As a group tends towards one end of the political spectrum or another, the politician representing them must also shift. The balance of the politician (taken from Weber’s Politics as a Vocation) is now thrown off. Instead of being able to scoot towards the middle and negotiate for the greater good, politicians are increasingly forced towards extremes in order to remain a politician. Don’t want to move too right or too left? Fine, your now determined constituency will oust you, per their right.
Where does this leave us? It really does matter where you get your facts, but it seems to me to come down to an individual responsibility to try to attain the most accurate facts possible (not the ones you like the most). Let’s see if we can manage that one.
Another article that addresses this topic was written in July of 2011 by the Economist.