Poles apart: More in U.S. are holding consistent liberal or conservative views

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Ellie Gordon has unfriended countless people from her Facebook page over political clashes.

The self-identified 28-year-old feminist, environmentalist and progressive liberal has engaged in arguments and debates on the social media platform over the conservative views of some "friends," sometimes ending in her removing them from her page.

A sexist post about Hillary Clinton, disparaging comment about the George Zimmerman trial, negative comments about LGBTQ rights or access to abortion services and birth control are just a few of the interactions that prompted removal from her page.

"For all of these people, I talked with them first privately, or sometimes on a post I made," Ms. Gordon of Squirrel Hill said. "If they did not show any understanding or apology or willingness to change, then I took them off my page."

Ms. Gordon is part of a growing number of Americans spotlighted in a recent Pew Research Center who hold consistently liberal or conservative views, impacting everyday decisions such as where a person chooses to live, media consumption and social circles.

The poll reports the number of Americans who hold unvarying liberal or conservative views has doubled from 10 percent in 2004 to 21 percent. Correspondingly, the number of Americans with views that cross the political spectrum has dropped over the past decade from 49 to 39 percent.

The survey used a series of questions on issues including the military, environmentalism, immigration and regulation of business to evaluate political ideologies. Results showed, in nine of the 10 issues tested, the views of Democrats and Republicans have become increasingly polarized with decreasing civility across party lines. Two-thirds of ideologically pure conservatives and half of liberals interviewed also said most of their close friends share their political views.

A relationship would likely not develop with a woman who wasn't libertarian, Bloomfield resident Jamie McKibbin said. Both of his brothers and most of his friends share similar political views, he said, as much of his social circle stems from his involvement with the Libertarian Party of Allegheny County and Liberty on the Rocks, a nonprofit libertarian organization. His political views shape his personal values on issues like corporal punishment, he said, which makes it critical that his partner shares his beliefs.

"I don't think I could marry and have children with a woman who wasn't a libertarian," Mr. McKibbin, 23, said. "It doesn't just apply to the world of politics, it applies to interpersonal relationships as well. ... If I'm going to have a child with a woman, she needs to know that hitting children isn't OK, using force as opposed to reason. If they show no signs of ever coming around to those philosophical principles, I don't think we could ever have something long-term."

Pew research found that, beyond intimate social circles, three in 10 responders on each side of the spectrum also said it's important to live in a community where most people share their political views. Clara Kitongo, 26, purposely searched for apartments in the East End, and was relieved to find a place to live in Squirrel Hill. Her neighborhood, she said, is conducive to her liberal ideals.

"Just having such variety of diverse people, businesses and stores in the community, and there are a lot of students in the area anyway ... it's easy to carry some of those views," Ms. Kitongo said.

In the span of a few blocks, she has access to a Nigerian herbal shop, a homemade clothing store and, her favorite, a tea shop she frequents several times a week.

Ms. Gordon, who has been a lifelong resident of Squirrel Hill, said her community is especially conducive to her political beliefs as a practicing vegan. It might be more difficult in suburban communities like the North Hills, she said, for her to find "vegan-friendly" dishes and many of the "left-leaning folks and artist types" who make up her social circle.

For her, political affiliation extends beyond personal views about issues like health care, homosexuality, abortion, taxes and foreign policy.

"It literally means this person does not value me as a human being," Ms. Gordon said. "Right now, if you vote Republican, you're basically voting against my human rights because Republicans are always voting to take away women's rights, gay people's rights."

While Ms. Gordon has been a feminist and environmentalist since childhood, Ms. Kitongo's political perspective drastically changed when she moved to the U.S. from Ghana five years ago, she said. The conservative East African country has recently come under fire for its harsh anti-gay law, with President Barack Obama describing the law as "odious."

Ms. Kitongo said she was "homophobic" when she came to the U.S., but her undergraduate experience at Chatham University helped change her political ideals.

"Growing up in Uganda, there wasn't really much of a choice politically," she said. "We've had one president all my life, and a lot of things were just accepted. You can't wear certain things, you can't say certain things. Being here just kind of opened how I see people, relationships between females and males. I changed my perspective, my style, my hair, everything."

Most of her friends, she said, share similar interests and political views, although she thinks individual personalities dictate the closeness of her friends more than political ideology.

"I have a diverse group of friends who I feel like are mostly liberal people," Ms. Kitongo said. "We never really talk about politics too much, though. We just kind of let each other be."

Tomas Spath, co-founder of the Texas-based Institute for Civility in Government, said he thinks the poll findings are a result of increasingly polarizing political figures being elected into office.

"We never vote for someone whom we want to vote for, but always vote against somebody," he said. "Whoever puts out the most negative ad against the other person is the one we'll settle for."

The institute has organized legislative seminars in Washington, D.C., where attendees had to pick a handful of social issues to discuss with their elected representatives. Researching the issues and learning how to calmly articulate political ideals and listen to opposing views is a critical lesson, he said, but proved to be difficult for many participants.

"People couldn't discuss and couldn't stay present with each other," Mr. Spath said. "We can't listen to each other. We need a whole society that needs to learn how to agree to disagree. Every year we claim that we want civility in the political process but have no idea how to bring it about."

Overbrook resident Chris Cratsley, 33, agreed. While his political views are predominantly conservative, he thinks liberal and conservative Americans are aligning their political views with a specific party, rather than developing their own ideas.

"I don't think the problem is ideology," Mr. Cratsley said. "I think it's that people identify with one party and stick with whatever the party's stance is. Our culture has regressed from the point where people could debate the issues, either because they don't want to leave their comfort zone or don't fully understand what they say they believe in."

Clarece Polke: cpolke@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1889.

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