According to research from two scholars at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler, Americans’ assumptions about their political opponents’ bad faith is rooted in something deeper than partisan affiliation. People on opposite sides of the political spectrum actually have non-overlapping worldviews, which makes it hard for them to see anything legitimate in their political opponents’ views. The archetypes Hetherington and Weiler draw in their 2018 book, Prius or Pickup?, are intuitively recognizable: Americans with a more conservative, or “fixed,” orientation value obedience in their children and strength in their leaders. They often fear the world around them, and prize stability and tradition over experimentation and change. By comparison, Americans with a more liberal, or “fluid,” worldview strive to raise independent, curious children and see empathy and tolerance as the most noble qualities a leader can embody. They believe in questioning authority and abhor performative shows of toughness.
This sharp worldview divide helps explain the current dynamics in Washington around impeachment—why people are so angry, and why each side automatically counts each new revelation as evidence for its case. “When people hate the other side so much, they’ll resist just about anything, any kind of information, that would be beneficial to that other side,” Hetherington told me. Americans’ “partisan bias is so strong that even in the absence of strong counterarguments on behalf of the president, we’re seeing no movement in public opinion about impeachment.”