A COUNTRY DIVIDED� GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS EXAMINES
THE STATE OF OUR UNION, ON A SPECIAL �20/20,� FRIDAY, JUNE 30
America is a nation increasingly divided, on issue after issue after issue. You can see it, hear it and feel it, from the streets of the smallest town to the halls of Congress. How did we become so divided? Based on extensive reporting all over the country, George Stephanopoulos issues a warning about the threat posed by the political polarization of America in an ABC News special, �State of the Union,� airing on a special edition of �20/20,� FRIDAY, JUNE 30 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on ABC.
America�s political divide is often described as red states vs. blue states. But the reporting in this hour demonstrates that the phenomenon is more neighborhood by neighborhood or town by town � red streets vs. blue streets. As an example, �State of the Union� compares two cities, Montclair, New Jersey and Franklin, Tennessee. A generation ago in both communities, the vote in the presidential election was split 50-50 Democrat-Republican. In 2004 it was a blowout in opposite directions � 78% for Senator John Kerry in �blue� Montclair, 72% for President Bush in �red� Franklin. The margin of victory has steadily widened in every presidential election since 1976. Stephanopoulos calls this clustering of Americans into like-minded communities �the big sort,� and it is happening nationwide.
In �State of the Union� ABC News conducts two experiments that illustrate the impact of �the big sort.� In the first, Cass Sunstein, a University of Chicago law professor, conducts a remarkable experiment for ABC News that demonstrates that like-minded people are pushed to more and more extreme positions when they group together. It has profound and troubling implications for the country. In the second experiment, University of Pennsylvania Professor Diana Mutz demonstrates the impact of so-called �shout TV,� which is the media manifestation of �the big sort.� She shows that viewers are very likely to misunderstand those who disagree with them when they watch people shouting at each other. And the ongoing civilized debate that is a cornerstone of American democracy can be lost in the process. All of this is accelerated by the internet. About eight million people log on to political blogs or partisan web journals every day, creating virtual communities of like-minded partisans who demonize each other.
Some politicians, partisans themselves, see the problem but not the solution. Senator Barack Obama (D. IL.) tells Stephanopoulos: �I think that culturally right now we have a system in which we don�t have a broad conversation among people who don�t agree with each other. And one of the biggest challenges I think we face as a nation is, how do we create those spaces? Supposedly the Senate, the body on which I serve, is supposed to be the greatest deliberative body in the world� It�s not happening.� Republic North Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham adds: �The best evidence I think of how polarized America has become is that it makes news when Democrats and Republicans do something of substance together, and that truly is a shame. We�ve gone from the Senate being presumed to be above party politics to where the news is we rejected party politics.�
�State of the Union� is produced by Sarah Koch and Martin Smith. Kayce Freed Jennings is the senior producer. Tom Yellin is the executive producer.