This gap between the politically indifferent and hard, loud partisans exacerbates the perception of a hopeless division in American politics because it is the partisans who define what it means to engage in politics. When a Democrat imagines a Republican, she is not imagining a co-worker who mostly posts cat pictures and happens to vote differently; she is more likely imagining a co-worker she had to mute on Facebook because the Trump posts became too hard to bear.

We see this effect in a study we did with three other political scientists, James Druckman, Samara Klar and Matthew Levendusky. We asked a group of over 3,000 Americans to describe either themselves or members of the other party. Only 27 percent of these people said that they discuss politics frequently; a majority consider themselves moderates. But nearly 70 percent of these people believe that a typical member of the other party talks about politics incessantly and is definitely not moderate.

For partisans, politics is a morality play, a struggle of good versus evil. But most Americans just see two angry groups of people bickering over issues that may not always seem pressing or important.