A recent Pew Research Center survey caught my eye. It looked at President Trump’s approval ratings. Pew indicated that the results are "unusually stable" (40 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s job performance, while 54 percent say they disapprove).
In their analysis, I was interested to learn how deeply partisan the divide has become, in fact, more than ever. "An average of 84 percent of Republicans say they approve of Trump’s job performance, compared with an average of just seven percent of Democrats, per data collected over the past year and a half. This 77 percentagepoint gap is even larger than the partisan divides seen in average ratings of Obama (67 points) and Bush (58 points) during their presidencies."
There are many social, economic and psychological reasons that could explain the deepening political polarization in the U.S.and beyond.
I would like to offer a technological explanation:
The information revolution changed the political discourse in a very profound way: it created an unprecedented volume of new information; unprecedented accessibility to retrieve and use this information; unprecedented methods to co-create and co-produce new information; unprecedented ways to actively participate in the political process with very law barriers; unprecedented capabilities to self-design our own information feed; and above all — it created the infamous "information overload."
This massive combination of new technological capabilities was introduced to the politically informed audience, (of mostly "digital immigrants," people that were born before the digital-technological age and, therefore, needed to adapt to the new digital literacy), within a matter of less than two decades.
First, was the emergence of Google as the leading search engine, with its incredible efficiency and simplicity. Google profoundly changed the conversation by providing immediate access to information, a feature that did not exist beforehand.
Second, was the introduction of the smartphone, first in 2000, and then again in 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone. The smartphone enhanced our self-design capabilities and forever changed our newsfeed. It is now being designed, edited and executed by a very precise algorithm which mirrors our very own preferences, selections and usage patterns.
Hence the famous "echo chamber":
Ultimately, most participants in political conversations, spend their time with like-minded people. Our echo-chambers are technologically designed to keep us within the contours of our own worlds. This is the technological explanation to the "unusual stability" of Trump’s approval ratings.
We learned two things about the impact of information overload on the political discourse:
First, "If it’s not in your feed it does not exist." The days of the traditional gate-keeper (the "editor") making decisions and selections for the politically involved are over.
Participants feel comfortable within the confines of their existing conversation.
Second, information over-saturation leads to a constant search for simple explanations and solutions to highly complex problems and political situations. Take Brexit as an example of how technology impacts the political conversation.
We now live in a new political reality, one that enhances a stereotypical and tribal view of the world. Expect this "unusual stability," meaning digitally induced political tribalism, to become the norm.
Ambassador Ido Aharoni serves as a global distinguished professor at New York University’s School of International Relations in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Ambassador Aharoni is a 25-year veteran of Israel’s Foreign service, a public diplomacy specialist, founder of the Brand Israel program and a well-known nation branding practitioner. He is the founder of Emerson Rigby Ltd., an Israel-based consultancy firm specializing in non-product branding and positioning. Ambassador Aharoni, who served as Israel's longest serving consul-general in New York and the tristate area for six years, oversaw the operations of Israel’s largest diplomatic mission worldwide. Ambassador Aharoni joined Israel’s Foreign Service in the summer of 1991 and held two other overseas positions in Los Angeles (1994-1998) and in New York (2001-2005). He is a graduate of Tel Aviv University (Film, TV, Sociology and Social Anthropology) and Emerson College (Master’s in Mass Communications and Media Studies). At the Hebrew University in Jerusalem he attended the special Foreign Service program in Government and Diplomacy. To reach more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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