Yet such simple 'us' and 'them' narratives aren't true, even if it makes for compelling framing, according to a new paper.
Instead, diverse groups around the world share more in common in terms of their beliefs and values than polarized reporting too often suggests. It's certainly true that people who have a cultural axe to grind use social media to grossly overestimate the difference between groups, and in modern journalism 'X did Y and Twitter went crazy' is how pieces are written, but just because a technique is a tool in the culture wars, and certainly politics, doesn't mean people are actually all that different. They are just willing to believe the worst about others if told often enough.
The United Kingdom joined the newly created EU in 1993, for example, and complaints about spending money and receiving intangibles mobilized enough voters they chose to leave, but the Brexit debate has become far more rancorous than the usual Tories and Labor acrimony. It has become a referendum on public perceptions towards people from other nations and backgrounds. The issue of free movement of people came under intense debate during the referendum campaign – and there was broad consensus that the referendum result reflected widespread concerns – the research suggests that talk of deep-divisions in society may be overblown.
The analysis drew on surveys from over 60 countries and 140,000 people which looked at people’s moral beliefs and attitudes including people’s values surrounding equality. They used statistical techniques to analyze how similar or different groups were among different groups of people split by nationality, religion, age, gender, income, and education level.
People’s perception of difference between these groups is around 70%, whereas the reality is only 12%
The conclusion was that people tend to overestimate differences between groups. Attitudes and values on issues ranging from crime and security to moral beliefs were remarkably in tune – for instance, on average, 95% of responses given by women were mirrored by men, and 80% of responses of individuals from one nation were mirrored by those from another.
They find that the values of British and Polish people are also much more similar than people often believe. Across a host of social values, including security, loyalty, success and broadmindedness, this shows that there is far more overlap between these two groups in reality than people often perceive.
Social cohesion is a lot stronger than political groups want us to think. In reality, there are more similarities than media accounts about other people’s perceptions or prejudices want us to see.