Bridging the Gap, with Stephen Hawkins

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“There’s a subtle but crucial difference between ‘Opponent’ and ‘Enemy’”

If Polarization is on the rise around the world, it takes different forms. The “Ideas Landscape” in the US, UK, France and Germany is very different, with the US - unfortunately - most radicalised across its politics. There, political sorting amongst voters and inside Congress has seen a hardening of attitudes towards each side. In Europe, however, there’s more hope.

“What seems to characterize the British political environment right now, more than polarization, is exhaustion…”

In the UK, there is very broad consensus around environmental concerns, the benefits of diversity and the value of the NHS, with only a small minority of political activists on the hard left and right. That pattern is echoed in France (with the added divisiveness of Islam) and Germany (more divided over how to deal with its past).

What can Europe do to ensure it avoids US-levels of polarisation? Stephen believes they key is building a shared identity, characterized by 8 key features.

  1. An individual experience of belonging, regardless of background or biology.
  2. A common perception of the country, one that is neither self-aggrandizing nor self-loathing, but self-aware.
  3. A basic alignment on trusted institutions for expertise and other information.
  4. A shared notion of the individual’s responsibility to the country.
  5. A common sense of our basic, guaranteed rights from society.
  6. A set of shared values to orient moral decision making.
  7. Congenial intergroup perceptions
  8. Common aspirations for the future.
“In the US, we’ve lost the common sense of authority that should be provided by academia, science and the media. The umpires and referees aren’t trusted - which means both sides get nervous and they just want to see their side win.”

Stephen Hawkins

More in Common was founded to strengthen democratic societies by countering social division and polarization. They work at the very base of the pyramid - doing deep research into the causes and forms of polarisation, as well as testing new initiatives to counter it. Stephen is their Global Director of Research, and has led their work on Hidden Tribes, the Perception Gap and Democracy for President

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