Even those Americans who regularly encounter political diversity don’t necessarily choose it, however. Democrats, Independents, and Republicans seem to mingle most in spaces where people don’t have much of an option about being there. According to the survey, roughly three-quarters of Americans’ interactions with people from another political party happen at work. Other spheres of life are significantly more politically divided: Less than half of respondents said they encounter political differences among their friends. Only 39 percent said they see political diversity within their families, and vanishingly few people said they encounter ideological diversity at religious services or community meetings. Traditionally, researchers have seen these spaces as places where people can build strong relationships and practice the habits of democracy. The PRRI/Atlantic findings add to growing evidence that these institutions are becoming weaker—or, at the very least, more segregated by identity. “If you’re thinking from a participatory democracy model, you would hope to see these numbers much higher,” said Robert P. Jones, the CEO of PRRI.
Even Americans who are exposed to people from a different political party might not want to get too close. Almost one in five of the survey respondents said their interactions with people of a different political party are negative. This may be a reflection of deepening partisanship in America: Party affiliation influences not just how people vote, but cultural decisions such as what to buy or watch on television, said Lilliana Mason, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland. “As these other social identities have moved into alignment with partisanship, we’re seeing more animosity across partisan lines—not necessarily because we’re disagreeing about things, but because we believe the [person from the] other party is an outsider, socially and culturally, from us,” she said. “It also becomes really easy to dehumanize people who we don’t have identities in common with.” In recent decades, social scientists have seen increased use of the language of dehumanization, Mason said: people calling their political opponents monsters, animals, or demons, for example.