The popular dating website OkCupid announced Wednesday that it would make the online dating scene a little easier for progressives who can’t risk interacting with someone with whom they disagree (imagine the horror!). They announced a partnership with Planned Parenthood that allows site users to put a badge on their profile signifying support for the nation’s largest abortion provider, much the way Facebook becomes saturated with similar kinds of profile pictures during the newest disaster.
It’s hard to not see this as a reaction to the rise of President Trump, as Planned Parenthood has long been a political football tossed back and forth between left and right, although dating sites have never made such an overt venture into politics. But, in our current bizarre world of politics, this represents a widening chasm between those who are most politically active, causing people to see an opposing viewpoint as an all-out assault on their personhood. The irony is that the type of assortative mating OkCupid is encouraging is one factor that allowed for the rise of a candidate like Trump.
The Effects of Assortative Mating
Assortative mating is when someone partners and starts a family with someone of a similar background. It can be based on innate characteristics, such as race and ethnicity, or socioeconomic backgrounds. People have always engaged in assortative mating of some kind or another, but as social scientist Charles Murray explains in his book “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010,” there was a shift to a particular type of mating in the ‘60s which continues through the present day.
As cognitive ability became the most valued aspect of human capital––and the biggest predictive indicator for professional success––people began marrying others with similar intellect. Ivy League graduates marry other Ivy League graduates, and their kids do the same, and so on and so forth, causing severe economic stratification between what Murray calls the “New Upper Class” and “New Lower Class.”
This is all developing at a time of increasing polarization in politics. In 2014, the Pew Research Center conducted a study on this issue and found 43 percent of Republicans had a “very unfavorable view” of Democrats, up from 17 percent in 1994. Thirty-eight percent of Democrats shared the same feeling about Republicans––in 1994 it was 16 percent.
Polarization is a result of the emotional reactions that politics naturally bring out in people. The most politically active are the most extreme of each group––the most likely to surround themselves with only the likeminded, and the least likely to give an inch to an opposing viewpoint.
These groups also vote heavily in primaries, which pushes candidates further left and right. And, as represented by the ascendance of the Tea Party, they demand ideological purity. Christine O’Donnell’s 2010 victory in the Delaware Republican primary for Senate, defeating a former governor and nine-term member of the U.S. House, is a prime example of this phenomenon, as she went on to lose the general election.
Demagogues Love Tribalism
Assortative mating serves to intensify this polarization. It amplifies an already significant ingroup-outgroup mentality around contentious social issues. Social and cultural issues create severe disagreement because they trigger the emotional part of the brain: the disagreement challenges a core part of group identity. This is exactly the type of schism that an arrogant demagogue like Trump exploits.
Trump was able to convince rural and working-class people that he was the answer to their collective malaise. Economic anxiety, which Never Trumpers are so wont to point out as the reason for his success, is intimately tied to cultural issues, because the anxiety is seen as a product of unfair cultural decline. You didn’t lose your job because your skill set didn’t match a changing economic reality. Instead, it was the result of a rigged system that benefits the elite, liberal urban centers on each coast and their progressively government-dependent constituents, at your expense.
In a less polarized environment, that schtick might be seen for the nonsense that it is. But in a world of ignorant voters and social stratification––in which progressives who live in wealthy ZIP codes and small-town conservatives share a mutual disdain for one another––you get stratification that populist blowhards can exploit. Humans naturally form groups, but when rampant partisanship is the foundation upon which the group lies, extreme politicians are those most likely to win their sympathy.
If a progressive doesn’t want to date a conservative and vice versa, that’s perfectly fine. Everyone has deal-breakers. But as a political protest, this form of virtue-signaling is counterproductive in the long run.