Mega-identities and the Partisan Spiral
Why is Britain less polarised than the US and how to we avoid ending up in the same place?
One of the most remarkable aspects of the pandemic in the UK was the level of support for Government rules. Right up to the point restrictions were removed the majority of people thought the Government was being too lax in reducing freedoms to protect health. And critically this was true across the political spectrum. There was very little difference between Labour and Tory voters or Remain and Leave ones. Indeed Conservative voters tended to be slightly more in favour of restrictions, largely due to being older and more at risk from the virus. For instance, in January 2021, during the second lockdown, 52% of voters (56% of Tories and Leave voters) thought police enforcement wasn’t tough enough, compared to just 12% who thought it was too tough.
This was despite the efforts of the right-wing press, talk radio, MPs on the right of the Tory party, and Brexiteers like Nigel Farage to build opposition to restrictions. Toby Young, Fraser Nelson, Julia Hartley-Brewer and the rest of the gang railed away against lockdowns and masks to absolutely no effect.
In the US it was a different story. There covid turned into a partisan issue within months. As soon as August 2020 Republicans were evenly split on whether to “open up more stores and workplaces even if there hasn’t been a significant reduction in infections”; whereas 94% of Democrats opposed doing so. A Gallup poll around the same time found 94% of Democrats saying they usually wore a mask outside of the home compared to 46% of Republicans. This flowed through to vaccinations, with almost all Democrats saying they had been or would get vaccinated, compared to around half of Republicans. There was a very high correlation between high vaccination levels and observing mask requirements and the political affiliation of states.
It's a similar picture on multiple other policy areas.