The 2020 Positive Peace Report (PPR) has shown a slow and steady deterioration in US Positive Peace rates since 2009, particularly from 2015 onwards.
The largest deterioration was found in the Attitudes and Institutions domains of the Positive Peace Index with the most notable decline measured in the quality of information indicator. Two other indicators also stand out — factional elites and group grievances — with all three showing a disproportionate deterioration compared to the country’s other indicators.
The report suggests that the data reflects the widening gap between political and social groups and the radicalisation of views. These deepening divides are connected in part to the country’s changing landscape of information, media and politics.
What follows is a breakdown of the three indicators showing the most extreme deteriorations that have substantially affected the country’s worsening Positive Peace score.
The Quality of Information Indicator:
The Quality of Information Indicator is “measured by Government dissemination of false information domestically: How often governments disseminate false or misleading information.”
The 2020 Positive Peace Report found that this indicator deteriorated most substantially compared to the other indicators, showing an extreme 100 per cent deterioration from 2009 to 2019.
During this period, the US was led by President Barack Obama until 2016, and from then on, by President Trump. The growth in popularity of social media channels and the increase in use of these platforms over this time allowed for information to be amplified and shared like no other period in history. In 2005, just 5% of American adults used social media. By 2011, that share had risen to half of Americans. By 2019, 72% of Americans used social media.
Social media affects the quality of information by allowing a rapid circulation of news and information to large audiences. A 2018 article by Simon Aral, Soroush Vosoughi and Deb Roy in the Journal Science found that false stories were 70% more likely to be re-tweeted than true stories, and six times faster in reaching an audience of 1,500 people. Psychology professor Geoffrey Beattie from Edgehill University compares the spread of misinformation to gossip, telling the BBC “people want to share information that is newsworthy – in some sense the truth value is less of a concern”.
In addition, a 2014 Pew Research Center report documented that the news and content people see is affected by the people and sites you follow, and on your past activity on the site. According to Pew, this has the effect of creating ideological bubbles that overexposes people to like-minded views while excluding viewpoints different from their own.
Several academic studies finds that the quality of information spread through social media can contribute to societal division and polarisation, by spreading misinformation that drive users towards increasingly extreme content, potentially leading to online radicalisation.
The Group Grievances Indicator:
The group grievances indicator is defined by IEP as “the extent and severity of grievances between groups in society, including religious, ethnic, sectarian and political discrimination and division.”
This indicator underwent the third largest deterioration compared to all pillars, measuring a deterioration of a little more than 60 per cent from 2009.
In the US, group grievances are particularly strong along political lines. The online political environment is deeply polarised and defined by partisan hostility. In 2017, the partisan divide in values was wider than at any other point in the past two decades. When asked to describe their political counterparts, the majority of Conservatives and Democrats used negative words to describe one another. ‘Close-minded’, ‘unpatriotic’, ‘immoral’, ‘lazy’ and ‘unintelligent’ were frequently used by both parties.
Particularly during the 2016 election cycle, social media users were found to hold highly negative views of the opposing party and its members, finding little common ground with those they agree with politically.
Grievances between social groups have also been exacerbated by the state of economic disparity in the US, particularly following the 2008/2009 economic recession and the global financial crisis. However, Pew Research Center has found that economic inequality has continued to widen since as far back as 1980.
The Factional Elites Indicator:
The Factionalised Elites indicator “measures the fragmentation of state institutions along ethnic, class, clan, racial or religious lines.”
This pillar displayed the second largest deterioration out of the three selected indicators, amounting to a near 90% change from 2009 to 2019.
The Washington Post reports that anger and the building of partisan antipathy has become a primary tool for motivating US voters, sustaining this partisan polarisation and contributing to factional division.
It has also been found that the deepening factional divide between the Left and Right pose a challenge to democracy through, among other things, increased disagreements and unwillingness to compromise on legislation.
For 34 days, from December 22, 2018 until January 25, 2019, the United States Federal Government saw the longest government shutdown in history. The shutdown occurred when former President Trump could not agree on an appropriations bill to fund a border wall against Mexico. These once rare government shutdowns have reportedly become more frequent than ever, with many looking to the increased polarisation and factional elite division.