Five Things with Kevin Smith
Americans are feeling the stress of a contentious national election. University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist Smith says genetics and environment play a role in how we react to political polarization. | Show Notes: Read a Q&A with Kevin Smith ›› https://bit.ly/3jsOk5z; Learn more about Kevin Smith ›› polisci.unl.edu/kevin-smith
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[00:00:07.240]That was dumb. Hey, hey.
[00:00:09.720]We live in a time when physical fights break out
[00:00:12.700]over face masks.
[00:00:14.886]Hey, stop. Get off of me.
[00:00:16.894]Get off me. Get off me.
[00:00:18.570]And at a rally Americans question
[00:00:21.130]whether the Coronavirus pandemic is real.
[00:00:24.533]And COVID-19 is a hoax!
[00:00:28.740]University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist
[00:00:31.560]Kevin Smith says the climate is as extreme as it gets.
[00:00:37.740]I don't think anyone could have forecast an event
[00:00:40.910]where effectively a virus becomes politicized.
[00:00:44.790]You know, your position on wearing a face mask,
[00:00:48.010]or opening up the economy,
[00:00:52.180]or your position on,
[00:00:55.850]you know, the information that we're getting from the CDC.
[00:00:58.300]Should we follow it or not?
[00:00:59.970]In other words fundamental public health questions
[00:01:03.010]have taken on this really, really political
[00:01:06.040]and partisan tinge.
[00:01:11.020]This is "Faculty 101"
[00:01:12.900]Five Things about political polarization
[00:01:15.760]and how we got here.
[00:01:19.880]With a presidential election looming,
[00:01:21.910]voters are feeling the stress.
[00:01:24.060]Kevin Smith's research delves
[00:01:25.910]into the connection between biology and political leanings
[00:01:29.590]and the impact of polarization on our health.
[00:01:34.190]Number one, why is the country so divided?
[00:01:37.500]Smith's research suggests biology influences
[00:01:40.750]our political behavior and attitudes,
[00:01:42.950]but the environment also plays a role.
[00:01:45.865]Genetics is not destiny.
[00:01:48.980]Genetics help predispose you
[00:01:51.430]to react certain ways
[00:01:54.030]to whatever stimuli you find in your environment.
[00:01:57.570]Basically what it does is,
[00:01:58.760]it nudges the probabilities one way or the other
[00:02:01.790]to how you'll react
[00:02:03.270]to a message or a stimulus in your environment.
[00:02:09.290]And if you're in an environment
[00:02:10.980]where a lot of the stimuli
[00:02:12.430]and a lot of the messages
[00:02:14.340]are playing on people's innate predispositions
[00:02:19.930]to move in polarized directions.
[00:02:22.350]You know what?
[00:02:23.183]You're gonna end up with a polarized society,
[00:02:26.070]and I think that's exactly where we are right now.
[00:02:30.200]You know, it's not just the politicians.
[00:02:32.140]We have the rise of social media.
[00:02:34.000]We have the collapse of traditional gatekeepers.
[00:02:39.580]You know, people can live in their own echo chambers.
[00:02:41.470]We essentially live in an environment where
[00:02:44.060]if you have a predisposition
[00:02:46.180]to move strong one way
[00:02:48.640]on a political issue, I mean,
[00:02:51.790]this is an environment that is
[00:02:54.070]like tailor made for that.
[00:02:56.600]Number two, political polarization
[00:02:59.090]has physical and emotional consequences.
[00:03:02.060]During the last presidential election,
[00:03:04.160]Smith surveyed Americans using a questionnaire
[00:03:07.040]based on the instruments
[00:03:08.200]for diagnosing alcohol and gambling addiction.
[00:03:11.580]And what we found out that is rather astonishing,
[00:03:14.770]numbers of American adults say politics
[00:03:17.780]is negatively affecting their social,
[00:03:20.380]psychological, emotional, and even physical health.
[00:03:23.970]So roughly a fifth of Americans, for example,
[00:03:26.660]say that they have lost sleep because of politics.
[00:03:31.480]You know, roughly similar numbers say
[00:03:33.780]that they get depressed
[00:03:34.770]if their candidate loses.
[00:03:37.650]Roughly 15% say
[00:03:39.440]that I spend too much time on social media
[00:03:43.330]paying attention to politics,
[00:03:45.060]and I know it's bad for me,
[00:03:46.320]but I can't stop.
[00:03:48.050]5% of Americans say
[00:03:50.340]that they have considered suicide
[00:03:52.500]because of politics.
[00:03:54.470]And that's, you know,
[00:03:56.190]we had a survey of about eight or 900,
[00:03:58.730]so 5%, you have to take
[00:04:01.180]with a little bit of a grain of salt.
[00:04:03.160]But if our data is even in the ballpark,
[00:04:07.200]you're talking about an astonishing number
[00:04:10.590]of people who are considering doing themselves harm
[00:04:14.090]because of stuff they read in the news about politics,
[00:04:19.050]and I find that kind of concerning.
[00:04:22.870]Smith is following up on that survey
[00:04:24.990]during this election cycle
[00:04:26.600]to see what, if anything, has changed.
[00:04:29.360]He says the political landscape
[00:04:31.020]of 2020 also opens the way
[00:04:33.230]for research to answer new questions.
[00:04:36.150]I think 2020 is the year that
[00:04:38.060]is going to launch a thousand dissertations,
[00:04:41.344]that's for sure.
[00:04:42.610]Because I mean, there are institutional questions.
[00:04:45.630]I mean, we've really gotten a stress test.
[00:04:48.230]There's questions about communication and public opinion,
[00:04:53.030]social media's role, and there are also
[00:04:55.590]really interesting psychological questions.
[00:04:59.940]I mean, how does this environment,
[00:05:03.640]you know, running an election in a global pandemic
[00:05:06.080]affect people's psychology
[00:05:08.473]from a political point of view?
[00:05:10.470]I mean, this is really a unique opportunity.
[00:05:12.980]I mean, do people's political attitudes become crystallized?
[00:05:17.070]Do they become more extreme, you know,
[00:05:18.760]if you're a pro or anti immigration,
[00:05:20.490]do you move further away
[00:05:23.220]on those extremes because of what's what's going on?
[00:05:28.910]If you're feeling more threatened
[00:05:30.790]because of the pandemic,
[00:05:32.260]you know, just your health is feeling threatened.
[00:05:34.450]Does that filter through
[00:05:35.570]into your political attitudes and behaviors any way?
[00:05:41.000]Smith is concerned
[00:05:42.030]about how political polarization
[00:05:44.020]will affect basic American principles.
[00:05:46.900]What happens if people lose faith
[00:05:48.750]in the democratic process,
[00:05:50.070]that elections are reasonably fair?
[00:05:53.260]You know, the President of the United States
[00:05:54.630]is raising these questions.
[00:05:56.050]So it's incumbent upon us
[00:05:57.950]to sort of like follow up
[00:05:59.780]on those questions a little bit.
[00:06:01.470]So in that case, yes, it is offering unique opportunities.
[00:06:07.730]You know, some of the basic questions
[00:06:09.220]that we ask though, why do people vote?
[00:06:11.190]Why do people have the attitudes that they do?
[00:06:13.710]Why do they seek out some information and not others?
[00:06:17.340]Why are they engaging in politics
[00:06:19.140]or not engaging in politics?
[00:06:21.270]Those questions are sort of like perennial questions,
[00:06:25.010]but it's a really, really new environment,
[00:06:26.980]in which to explore answers to those questions.
[00:06:32.260]And number five,
[00:06:34.040]when it comes to voting Smith says
[00:06:36.020]try to set emotions aside.
[00:06:38.726](gentle instrumental music)
[00:06:42.950]Well, I'm not going to say
[00:06:44.100]go vote Republican or go vote Democrat.
[00:06:46.810]That's not my job.
[00:06:47.770]That's not my role.
[00:06:49.750]I think the bottom line is what
[00:06:51.210]I would urge voters to do,
[00:06:53.030]is think and not just react emotionally
[00:06:57.170]to what's going on,
[00:06:58.210]regardless of which side of the political spectrum
[00:07:00.470]that you're on.
[00:07:03.920]That's "Faculty 101",
[00:07:05.390]Five Things with Kevin Smith.
[00:07:10.017]"Faculty 101" is produced
[00:07:11.670]by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
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