Listening as a political de-polarizer

Half a century ago, 144 Republicans in the U.S. House were less conservative than the most conservative Democrats, according to a recent Pew Research Center review. And 52 House Democrats are less liberal than most liberal Republicans. Members vote with their party leadership almost 60% of the time. Now there is no such overlap. The House has only about two dozen moderates. All members voted on the party line more than 90% of the time.

The wider ideological divide has resulted in a crisis of confidence in how voters view their elected officials. Chloe Maxmin, a Democratic state senator from Maine, said in a new book condemning her party’s expulsion from rural America, “People from all political perspectives share something in common: a deep lack of political confidence and a deep frustration with not having their voices heard in our government. ”

Fixing that problem – restoring the American system of representative democracy to reflect more closely its original design – may not be as difficult as it says. A new University of Maryland study found that voters value accountability more through direct conversations with their elected officials than party identity. That attitude provides a counterpoint to the common view that American society is unmet polarized and democracy is damaged as a result.

The study, based on conversations with more than 4,300 voters, begins with a pessimistic benchmark: Ninety-one percent of those surveyed believe lawmakers “have little interest in views of their constituents “and are more influenced by special interests than” people. ” . ” It then asks voters to consider a hypothetical scenario: Would it matter if a candidate committed to always consult with his or her constituents and give their recommendations a higher priority than the views of the leadership of candidate’s party?

Seven in 10 said they would, and 60% said they would cross party lines to vote for a candidate who makes that promise. Similarly, 71% said that “the majority of the public as a whole are more likely to show the greatest wisdom on questions of what the government should do” than either Republicans or just Democrats.

“We have more in common than we believe, but we can only discover the common ground when we take the time to show up, listen, and respect each other,” wrote Senator Maxmin, who co -authored his book, “Dirt .Road Revival, ” with his campaign adviser Canyon Woodward.

While 49 members of Congress have announced they are not seeking re-election this year-many out of frustration with partisan rancor and polarization-some show the value of that kind of listening. Rep. Dusty Johnson, a Republican from South Dakota, for example, easily defeated a major challenger last month despite denying his party’s false statements about the 2020 election. The reason? He has built trust with voters through monthly town hall meetings and conference calls.

To understand the perspective of others, “We must learn to listen to what they have to say – and listen from their position, not from ourselves, ”Heidi Maibom, a professor of philosophy at the University of Cincinnati, wrote in a new essay in the online Aeon newsletter.

The ideological division of politics today is not without remedy. It starts with restoring a simple premise of representative democracy – that by listening to everyone they represent, public officials can find the greatest good for the most people.