An Auckland political psychologist says New Zealand’s become more polarised in the Covid-19 era.
We’re not quite as divided along blue-red lines as the pro and anti-Trump brigades in the US but Danny Osborne says the tone of the debate has definitely intensified.
Osborne was born into a poor, Republican-voting family in a right wing city in California.
But when he discovered punk music as a teenager he switched politics.
It’s made for some awkward meals.
"You're basically born into a party in the US," says Osborne, associate professor at the University of Auckland's school of psychology. "I'm a black sheep."
He's been in New Zealand for nine years, teaches political psychology, and is part of the team working on the 20-year-old Attitudes and Values study of 60,000 New Zealanders.
"Politics are all about identities," he says. "So people are National supporters, they're Labour supporters, they're Green supporters. Same thing with the US which is an exponentially more polarised environment."
Osborne talks to The Detail's Sharon Brettkelly about the growing polarisation of politics, what happens to families and friends when politics becomes more divisive, and the impact of the pandemic on attitudes.
The latest Attitudes and Values research, looking at political segmentation in the last 10 years shows that until 2018 there was very little polarisation, says Osborne.
But there are signs of covid's impact on peoples' attitudes.
"Everything from managed isolation, to how we're dealing with debt etc, it has really taken on a partisan flavour that I haven't seen since I've been in New Zealand," Osborne says.
"I think what the Trump election in 2016 shows us is that democracy is incredibly fragile and you know within the period of four years you can just completely change your way of thinking.
"We used to view the US as this paragon of democracy and in one administration that's all changed. So I think the same thing can happen in New Zealand, we can very much see these issues start to polarise."
Studies show that families tend to stick with the same party, says Osborne, though he fits with the small percentage who break the mould. His own close family members are Trump voters and Osborne says he was "a bit of an outcast" growing up in right wing towns in California. Any visits home to the family avoid political discussion.
Osborne cites a study published after the 2016 election which looked at cell phone data from people over the Thanksgiving holiday. It showed that people who had voted for Hilary Clinton, who were returning home to see family in Trump-voting counties, spent on average an hour less at the family home before they headed back to the "blue" counties.
He says as a general trend people are uncomfortable with cross-party conversations but he urges voters to keep having them to keep the debate alive.