OHIO — For centuries, Independence Hall in Philadelphia has been a symbol of national unity for the United States, but not in 1776. Back then, it was ground zero for polarization across the colonies and the British Empire, which brought up multiple thoughts.

What is the current state of political strife among Americans? Is it really the worst it’s ever been, or is it all a matter of historical perspective? Spectrum News 1 looks into those questions with the series: “Talking Politics.”

What You Need To Know

  • Large percentages of Republicans and Democrats hold negative views of the other party

  • Today’s polarization is high, but not on the level of violence during the Civil War

  • Braver Angels, an organization dedicated to reducing polarization, sees opportunities for common ground

John Vincent and his granddaughter, Emma, talk politics a lot, and they don’t always agree.

“If I knew that you had voted for Biden again, would I be upset?” John Vincent said. “Hell yes.”   

“You would be upset?” Emma Vincent asked.

“Yes,” John Vincent replied.

Opinion surveys say it’s true of most of the country. But the real tension goes far beyond a family talk. 

Pew data from 2022 shows 83% of Democrats label Republicans as “closed minded,” and 62% of Republicans think Democrats are “lazy.”

And half of both parties think the opposition lacks “intelligence.”

John and Emma don’t lob those insults in their talks, but a quick scan of recent political happenings shows two sides geared for a fight.

Scholars call it polarization. Because there’s a wide distance between the sides, and members in both groups hold similar views with each other. 

But, Americans have been here before, said University of Cincinnati historian Christopher Phillips.

So what could be worse than now? America’s Civil War era.

“There are about 750,000 deaths that we can use as evidence, which would be the equivalent today of about 6 million people,” Phillips said.

Today’s political fights don’t rise to this level. And they won’t if Ohioans like Robyn Brands and her colleagues have a say. 

Brands is part of an organization called Braver Angels, which has a lot of history to that term.

“Braver Angels actually came from ‘better angels,’ which is a quote from Abraham Lincoln,” Brands said.

Brands, who lives around the corner from the Abraham Lincoln statue in downtown Cincinnati, discovered something in her work.

“Talking to people, there’s a huge middle America: people who are not extreme,” she said. “And if we can get that group of people engaged and talking and standing up and vocal, I think we’re going to be fine.”

Brands’ optimism leads to the consideration Braver Angels’ work in Talking Politics on political polarization. 

In the next part of Talking Politics, two of the group’s leaders will be introduced. They’re a married couple who feed their political differences in the kitchen.