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The Centurion

US Political Divide Fueled by Distrust of Media

Tyler Creighton

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As political tribalism in America continues to grow, a distrust in established media institutions is leaving even self-described centrists feeling doubtful about the state of truth and facts, while social scientists talk of a “false consensus” effect that could exacerbate political polarization.

“I can’t remember a time when it was this bad” says Diane Rice, a professor of government and criminal law at Bucks who has served as the judge of elections in the Newtown 8th District. Rice feels that a substantial portion of the public seems to disregard factual truth, instead favoring the opinions of unqualified or ill-informed sources. She wistfully recalls the recent past, back when Democrats and Republicans had been far more cooperative. This kind of compromise has been occurring less frequently as starkly contrasting political beliefs further divide the parties.

Theodora Dagkli, a 20-year-old criminal justice major and the head of student government at Bucks, attempts to distance herself from national politics, not due to lack of knowledge, but because, in her words, “It’s more important to keep the peace, especially at the level of student government.” Theodora says that she “operates of off a system that promotes fairness amongst students.” based on her own moral and ethical judgement.

Her self-identified centrism has not gone unchallenged. When it recently emerged that someone was posting racist fliers promoting white supremacy onto student bulletin boards across campus, she made the decision to have the fliers removed, feeling that they promote an ideology of intolerance, and described them as an attempt to instill fear in the racially diverse student population.

Theodora distrusts mainstream media as well as the federal government, claiming that the former is full of exaggerations and the latter is host to corruption on multiple levels taking place behind closed doors. She believes that fanatics and extremists are people who “stir the pot” and thus disturb the peace she strives to maintain at Bucks.

James Jackman, a 19-year-old photography major at Bucks and self-identified conservative, blames the political divide on the motives of the mainstream media. He believes that the left, which he defines as CNN, MSNBC and television programs such as Saturday Night Live, promotes a one-sided narrative by attacking Donald Trump on a daily basis. As a result, James has turned to Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson and the noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for his political news and opinions.

Like many of her peers, Teagan Clare, a 20-year-old biology major, does not trust the media. She says that the “talk around town” is a more reliable source of information for political news. Her political stance is broadly centrist and she believes that the media exaggerates issues, leading to unnecessary public disruptions by extremists.

Whether they take a centrist, right-wing or left-wing viewpoint, many people have commented on their distrust in mainstream media for one reason or another, and therefore choose to rely on word of mouth, hyper-partisan and conspiratorial sources. A Stanford University study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that this form of opinion-making often creates echo chambers of inaccuracy, as opinions lead to behavioral choices and decisions in which ordinary people identify with untruthful unanimity.

The study, written by Lee Ross, David Greene, and Pamela House and titled “The False Consensus Effect: An Egocentric Bias in Social Perception and Attribution Processes,” asserts that “laymen tend to perceive a “false consensus,” often seeing their own behavioral choices and judgments as relatively common and appropriate to existing circumstances while viewing alternative responses as uncommon, deviant, or inappropriate.” This kind of “false consensus” can in practice create discord and further the animosity which divides people into factions without any reasonable, logical or factually based causes.

In the end, lockstep thinking and false consensuses seem to be driving some away from politics. Daniel Weinstein, a 19-year-old liberal arts major at Bucks has chosen to purposefully ignore politics, explaining his intent as a “conscious decision to distance himself from undue stress that he feels he has no control over.

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The student newspaper of Bucks County Community College
US Political Divide Fueled by Distrust of Media