Reactions of voters after the election, both in real life and in exit polls, show just how polarized political opinions in our country have become. The New York Times published polls that tell us that no matter how you categorize the U.S. public—by age, education, gender—we’re pretty solidly split on what we believe coming out of the election.
Widespread urban rallies and protests against Donald Trump’s win might seem to be preventing the U.S. from coming together rather than fostering unity post-election, but protesting the outcome of an election is nothing new (although one Washington University history professor said we’ve never seen it as immediate and on this scale ever before). When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, there were far-reaching, individual examples of backlash. In early 2009 when Obama took office, the Tea Party formed and began large-scale protests of his policies.
Some experts believe the ideology gap between U.S. voters has been widening since the political unrest of the 1960s and 70s, social media and partisan cable news aside. But social media does play a significant role in how we see ourselves in the larger political hivemind, said Patrick Meirick, director of the Political Communication Center at the University of Oklahoma.
If you’re like most people, your Facebook feed directly mirrors the beliefs you already hold, Meirick said. In that way, finding news on Facebook is a lot like watching only Fox News if you’re conservative or only MSNBC if you’re liberal—it feeds you information that backs up your pre-existing beliefs. (This phenomenon has been well documented through the Wall Street Journal’s project “Blue Feed, Red Feed.”) And more and more, Facebook is where people are turning for their daily news intake rather than seeking out specific news sites, partisan or otherwise, he said.
“I think it’s much less common for people to go to a news site and say, ‘Okay, let me get my news from CNN-dot-com now,'” Meirick said.
Although it can be just as polarized, one thing that makes Facebook different than partisan cable news channels is that Facebook users can’t really opt out of being inundated by a riptide of partisan news when they log on, Meirick said. If you’re watching TV and don’t want to get news from a certain service or you don’t want to get news at all, you can skip those channels.
“If you are going to Facebook just to see, ‘What are my friends up to?’, now you’re getting an enormous dose of incidental news,” he said. “Probably a good chunk of that is going to be partisan. So maybe we have the potential to polarize (through Facebook) in a way that partisan news would if people who weren’t interested in news watched it.”
Meirick believes that partisan cable news fails to have the polarizing power of Facebook because the people who are susceptible to being swayed one way or another by, for example, MSNBC or Fox News, the country’s moderates and nonpartisans, aren’t interested in news and actively avoid it. So, like Facebook, the partisan news channels become echo chambers where viewers go to have their pre-existing beliefs confirmed, Meirick said.
The best way to get to know the breadth and depth of political belief in this country is to have conversations with people. Photographers Henry Cherry and Jim Newberry captured post-election portraits that show the raw and diverse gut reactions of young people in the United States after the election. Check out the photos below.
Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.