The Hidden Tribes of America is a year-long project launched by More in Common in late 2018 to better understand the forces that drive political polarization and tribalism in the United States today, and to galvanize efforts to address them. The Hidden Tribes of America study forms the initial phase of the project.
The Hidden Tribes project involves three streams:
An intensive program of engagement with individuals and groups across the United States to discuss the findings of the Hidden Tribes of America study. This will be done online, through media, via briefings and convenings organized with partners. Central to these conversations will be finding ways to restore trust in each other and build connections that bridge across lines of difference.
More in Common will engage with partner groups across the country to build pilots that test and further develop insights from the study, with the goal of formulating responses to the crisis of increasing polarization and social fragmentation. Partnerships will include a range of civil society actors including community organizations, service organizations, and advocacy groups.
More in Common will release further research papers highlighting further insights from the study relating to specific issues of interest, such as American attitudes towards immigration and refugee policy. We also plan to partner with research institutions to undertake additional analysis of the large quantity of survey data.
More in Common works on strengthening societies against the increasing threats of polarization and social division. We aim to build more united, inclusive and resilient societies in which people believe that what they have in common is greater than what divides them.
We work in partnership with a wide range of civil society groups, as well as philanthropy, business, faith, education, media and government to connect people across the lines of division. Our work includes research into public attitudes, communications initiatives that resonate with a majority who are currently being targeted by populist narratives, and projects that bring people together in ways that counter the forces of fracturing and fragmentation.
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Stephen Hawkins is the Director of Research for More in Common. Since 2016, Stephen has led More in Common’s studies on polarization and division in the United States and across Europe. With a training in polling and public opinion research, he has advised partners and clients on five continents. His clients have included political candidates and movements, Fortune 100 companies such as Ford and Microsoft, and United Nations agencies. He received his Masters in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Stephen is fascinated by religion and ideology, and is an amateur impersonator.
Daniel Yudkin is the Associate Director of Research at More in Common and a postdoctoral researcher in the Psychology Department at Yale. His research focuses on how people assess and influence their surroundings, including how they decide between right and wrong, compare themselves to others, and explore new spaces. He received his PhD in social psychology at New York University, was a Fellow at Harvard University, and has been a contributing writer to the New York Times, The Guardian, and Scientific American. Daniel is interested in using insights from behavioral science to understand and improve human interaction and society.
Míriam Juan-Torres is the Senior Research and Research Coordinator at More in Common. A multidisciplinary researcher, Míriam has conducted field studies in West Africa and worked for UNHCR in Ghana and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia. Míriam is also a licensed lawyer in Spain, where she worked in public law for the firm Baker & McKenzie. Míriam graduated with a masters degree in Global Affairs from the Jackson Institute at Yale University and a degree in Law from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Míriam’s aim is to bridge the gap between research and academia, policy, and implementation.
Tim Dixon is a social movement builder who was born in Australia, worked for several years in New York and is now based in London, where he co-founded Purpose Europe. He trained as an economist and tech sector lawyer, built a leading Australian educational publishing business that was bought by Pearson in 2004 and worked as chief speechwriter and economic adviser for two Prime Ministers. He has helped start and grow social movement organisations around the world to protect civilians in Syria, engage citizens in the peace process in Colombia, address modern day slavery, promote gun control in the US, reduce inequality, and engage faith communities in social justice. He is on the boards of the International Budget Partnership, the Jo Cox Foundation, Purpose Europe, the Syria Campaign, the Chifley Research Centre and faith-based justice organisation Sojourners.
Why seven groups or tribes?
America is a complex and diverse society of 325 million people. By definition, any categorization of a group this large must make choices as to which types of differences are meaningful and simplify some realities. There is no definitive “correct” number of groupings in which to categorize Americans.
In reviewing the groupings that emerged from multiple iterations of the hierarchical cluster analysis process, we found that seven groups were distinct enough from each other to be worthy of presentation as separate groups. If we had presented more than seven groups, some of the groups would be so similar to each other as to be hard to distinguish. Presenting fewer than seven groups would have resulted in members of some tribes being too different from each other to be accurately placed under the same label.
Finally, we see the value in segmentation studies not for defining tangible and authoritative groupings, but for challenging the categories by which analysis is typically done. For instance, there is not a single type of liberal or Democrat or woman, but several types. Furthermore, many of our most important differences are not visible demographic traits. Instead, much of our diversity lies in the more subtle and concealed domains of psychology and beliefs. Understanding these realities can help portray American society more fully and more accurately.
How did you define political correctness?
‘Political correctness’ is a complex and subjective phenomenon, with no single definition. As such, we did not provide respondents with a definition but instead our study contained many questions that seek to explore different angles of the subject. These included asking about dynamics of discourse on multiple subject areas: race and racism; sex, gender, and sexuality; immigration; and Islam and Muslims. For each of these subjects, we gauged whether Americans think people have become “too sensitive”. We also measured whether “today in America” people feel “pressure to think a certain way” about each of these subjects, or if instead it was “acceptable” for them to express their views. We further asked Americans whether they experienced pressure in the context of being with “people like me.” Additionally, we asked whether “political correctness is a problem” directly. Finally, we explored these subjects in our in-depth interviews and focus groups. Depending on the framing of the question used, we found that between half and 80% of Americans reported a degree of frustration or self-censorship.
Isn’t calling them ‘tribes’ offensive?
We certainly mean no offense to any group by referring to the seven segments as “tribes”. Instead, this phrase is intended to underscore the importance of identity and group membership in understanding American political dynamics. We felt that the term was appropriate for its connotations of commonality, shared beliefs, and loyalty to one’s group.
Do these groups predict voting behavior?
Hidden Tribes is an effort to describe the diversity within American society’s political beliefs and behavior. While we collected data on voting behavior, it is not our goal to make any predictions about elections. Furthermore, the tribes should be understood as groups with common patterns of political beliefs and political engagement, not voting blocs. While there is a relationship between the tribes and voting groups, our model is optimized for its explanatory power, not for electoral strategizing.
How did you recruit the participants in the interviews and focus groups? What did the qualitative phase entail?
We recruited participants to the in-depth interviews and focus groups from among our survey respondents. We conducted interviews and focus groups with members of each of the tribes (30 interviews and 6 focus groups).
Are the Wings actually less likely to compromise than the Exhausted Majority? Isn’t it a left to right divide?
Both trends exist simultaneously. The Exhausted Majority shows more support for compromise than the Wings, and liberals show more support for compromise than conservatives.
How can you know that core beliefs cause political attitudes?
Hidden Tribes does not seek to draw a direct causal relationship between core beliefs and political attitudes. However, we are struck by how predictive core beliefs are of both left and right political views. Together, core beliefs construct distinct but cohesive ideological worldviews for both progressives and conservatives. Taken together, it is our view that these worldviews are a highly relevant factor in shaping political views on issues ranging from terrorism to transgender identity.
Are you suggesting that there is a moral equivalence between the conservative right and the progressive left?
More in Common believes in stronger, more united societies. To that end, we have staff members from conservative, liberal and apolitical professional backgrounds. Through our research, we seek first to ask, listen and understand. The Hidden Tribes report is our effort to convey what we learned through our interactions with thousands of Americans. We do reject any racist or hateful ideas expressed in our study--such as that ‘being white’ is important to being American. In general, however, we believe that much more can be gained through dialogue than through judgment. That dialogue should be guided by the questions: how did we get here, and how do we move forward?
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