Missing: Friendship Across Party Lines

It seems obvious that having friends across the political spectrum would mitigate partisanship. Fortunately social science backs up the assumption. In this post Neil Gross cites the work of Diana Mutz* and Casey Klofstad to the effect that cross-partisan friendships promote understanding and tolerance…and decrease ideological entrenchment.

But Gross tells us such friendships are an endangered species. Party polarization has become a problem:

According to the political scientist Shanto Iyengar, 27 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats said in a 2008 survey that they would be “somewhat upset” or “very upset” if their son or daughter married someone in the opposite party. Those figures contrast with 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively, who said they would be “displeased” at the prospect of a cross-party marriage in 1960. [see Iyenger, "Affect not Ideology…" pg. 13]

This party polarization is in cahoots with geographic sorting and a general decline in civic participation.

One solution Gross suggests is to find ways to promote cross-party friendships among college students:

…one might hope that college would be a place where long-lasting relationships with politically diverse others could be forged, offering a bulwark against polarization nationally.

Gross, however, is quite sensitive to the challenges facing such a task. There is ideological sorting in college choice, especially among conservatives who feel at odds with left-leaning academia. And aside from this, it might require "institutional redesign" to get business and English majors in a position to make friends.

*A qualifying caveat:  Mutz found that having politically diverse friendships correlated with decreased political participation.