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Are You Living in a Political Bubble? (Hint: You probably are.)

Are You Living in a Political Bubble? (Hint: You probably are.)
Posted by Patrick Miller

In 1972, Richard Nixon won the presidential election by a landslide. He took 60.7% of the popular vote and won every state except for Massachusetts. His opponent, George McGovern, did not even win his home state of South Dakota.

But Pauline Kael, a film critic for the New Yorker, said she knew only one person who voted for Nixon. She lived in a liberal bubble where she never engaged with anyone who dissented with her political ideology.

This was incredibly unusual in 1972, because most Americans lived in counties where few presidents won more than 60% of the vote. Such counties are called “landslide counties,” meaning that one presidential candidate won that county, quite literally, by a landslide. In 1980, only 12% of American counties were landslide counties.

The benefits of this are innumerable. But let me state an obvious one: it’s easy to hate someone you don’t know. Republicans were faceless boogeymen to Pauline Kael, which meant she was easy prey for the propagandists. But if Pauline had known even a handful of kind Republicans who served their communities and loved their families, she would have found it difficult to believe the outlandish stereotypes.

When most Americans lived in non-landslide counties, it meant most Americans worked and lived alongside people from the other team. They might think people on the other team were wrong, misinformed, and naïve. But they did not think they were evil. Their diverse relationships made them more resilient against the campaigns of tribalist pundits, media organizations, and politicians.

If Jesus told his followers to love their enemies, it is probable that the first step was meeting those enemies face to face and building relationships (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:25-37). This is, by the way, exactly what he made his disciples do when he took them into the villages of their archrivals: the Samaritans (John 4).

So what about you? Do you have meaningful friendships with those who do not share your politics? Do you live and work alongside a diversity of political thought? Do you find it easy to buy into caricatures of the other team?


Popping the Political Bubble: What Democrats and Republicans Get Wrong

Odds are that your answer to this question is “no.” Or at least, “not much.” That’s because the number of landslide counties has increased tremendously in the last 40 years. In 2020, almost 60 percent of all American counties were landslide counties. Likewise, neighborhoods are becoming increasingly politically homogenous.

This might explain why both the left and the right have fallen prey to the idea that the other team stole the election. If you don’t know anyone who voted for the other candidate, you will naturally begin to wonder how that candidate won.

More importantly, it explains why so many Americans willingly buy into the caricatures of the other side presented by the media. It explains why an L.A. Times columnist can write an entire piece deriding her Trump-supporting neighbor for plowing the snow from her driveway.

If you don’t believe me, here are a few examples of the misconceptions people have about the other side:

  • Republicans estimate only 50% of Democrats are proud to be an American, but in reality, 80% are.
  • Republicans estimate 66% of Democrats favor open borders, but only 30% do.
  • Republicans estimate that 46% of Democrats are Black, but only 25% are.
  • Republicans think 38% of Democrats identify as LGBTQ, but only 6% do.

  • Democrats estimate that 44% of Republicans make at least $250,000 a year, but only 2% make that much money.
  • Democrats believe that only 40% of Republicans agree with the statement, “Many Muslims are good Americans,” but 66% do.
  • Democrats think that only 50% of Republicans recognize that “racism still exists in America,” but 80% do.
  • Democrats estimate that only 50% of Republicans believe “properly controlled immigration can strengthen America,” but in reality, 90% of Republicans do.

It’s amazing how much we have in common, and how easily we forget it when we don’t know each other.

So again, reflect on yourself: Do you live in a political bubble?

The Church Should Look Different

I realize that I’m in the minority when it comes to landslide counties. My neighborhood is split pretty evenly between Democrats and Republicans, and even includes a decent number of independents. So I have many relationships with committed Democrats, Republicans, and everything in between.

But this doesn’t mean I don’t feel the draw of tribalism. It’s easy to sink myself into a social media echo chamber, where everyone agrees with me. The pure frequency of tweets confirming my biases can easily outweigh my day-in-and-day-out experience.

To be honest, the only thing that has set me free is Jesus’s own example. In his day, political and ethnic tribes were the norm. For example, most Jews refused to interact with Samaritans. There’s a long history of religious violence behind that animosity, which even his disciples couldn’t escape. Two ask Jesus if they can call down thunder on Samaritans (Luke 9:54). The whole gaggle felt appalled when Jesus interacted with a Samaritan woman (John 4:27).

But Jesus was clear. God isn’t looking for a bunch of people who look like Jesus (i.e., Jewish men). He is looking for people of all nations, tribes, and tongues who “worship the father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23; Rev. 5:9).

To follow Jesus is to set aside your previous tribal allegiances. When we go to church, we should joyfully sit alongside people of different races and political ideologies. Why? Because we know that something more important than race and politics unites us: King Jesus.

Our mission at Truth Over Tribe is to help people detox from tribalism and take hold of Jesus’s political vision. We want to help you pledge allegiance to the lamb, not the donkey or the elephant.

Need a first step? We’ve created a detox program for people on both the left and the right, by people who once pledged their allegiance to right of the left. Maybe your first step is taking our short detox program? You’ll receive a series of emails helping you to leave your political identity behind. Not to mention, you’ll get the chance to finally pop that political bubble you’ve been living in.


Posted by Patrick Miller

Patrick Miller (MDiv, Covenant Theological Seminary) is a pastor at The Crossing. He offers cultural commentary and interviews with leading Christian thinkers on the podcast Truth Over Tribe, and is the coauthor of the forthcoming book Truth Over Tribe: Pledging Allegiance to the Lamb, Not the Donkey or the Elephant. He is married to Emily and they have two kids.

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