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Freiman: Why Not Purge Them?

Summary:
Thanksgiving is upon us, and the next election is less than a year away.  Upshot: You are about to get another big chance to purge family members for political reasons.  Should you take the plunge?  Philosopher Chris Freiman humbly tries to dissuade you in his forthcoming Why It’s OK to Ignore Politics.  Freiman speaks: Only about a third of partisans think that members of the opposing party “have their heart in the right place but just come to different conclusions about what is best.” So here’s an objection: we should disown out-party members because their politics expose their manifestly horrible character. You wouldn’t keep Stalin on your Christmas card list, would you? In reply, I’ll first mention that our beliefs about people on the other side of the

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Thanksgiving is upon us, and the next election is less than a year away.  Upshot: You are about to get another big chance to purge family members for political reasons.  Should you take the plunge?  Philosopher Chris Freiman humbly tries to dissuade you in his forthcoming Why It’s OK to Ignore Politics.  Freiman speaks:


Only about a third of partisans think that members of the opposing party “have their heart in the right place but just come to different conclusions about what is best.” So here’s an objection: we should disown out-party members because their politics expose their manifestly horrible character. You wouldn’t keep Stalin on your Christmas card list, would you?

In reply, I’ll first mention that our beliefs about people on the other side of the political aisle tend to be uninformed (a finding that should be unsurprising in light of the increasing social distance between the parties). Although people are misinformed about their own party, their misperceptions of the other side are worse. For instance, Republicans estimate that over one third of Democrats are atheist or agnostic, but the right number is under one tenth. Democrats think that 44 percent of Republicans earn at least 250 thousand dollars per year. The right number is 2.2 percent.

On policy matters, we think that there are enormous differences between our views and the views of the other side. However, it turns out that the gap is smaller than we think—a phenomenon called “false polarization.” On issues like taxes and immigration, the perceived divide between Democrats and Republicans is larger than the actual divide. You should at least have accurate beliefs about members of the other party before you disown them.

Bryan Caplan
Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN. Bryan Caplan blogs on EconLog.

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