Mind the (Perception) Gap with Dan Vallone

April 15, 2021

What do you think the other side thinks? Guest Dan Vallone is the Director of More in Common U.S.A., an organization that’s been asking Democrats and Republicans that critical question. Their work has uncovered countless “perception gaps” in our understanding of each other. For example, Democrats think that about 30 percent of Republicans support “reasonable gun control,” but in reality, it’s about 70 percent. Both Republicans and Democrats think that about 50 percent of the other side would feel that physical violence is justified in some situations, but the actual number for each is only about five percent. “Both sides are convinced that the majority of their political opponents are extremists,” says Dan. “And yet, that's just not true.” Social media encourages the most extreme views to speak the loudest and rise to the top – and it’s hard to start a conversation and work together when we’re all arguing with mirages. But Dan’s insights and the work of More in Common provide a hopeful guide to unraveling the distortions we’ve come to accept so we can correct our foggy vision.


Dan Vallone

Dan Vallone is the Director of More in Common U.S.A., New York. Prior to joining More in Common, Dan Vallone worked on education policy and innovation at the state and national level. Previously, he served six years active duty as an Army infantry officer, with one tour in Afghanistan. He graduated from West Point and earned an M.A. in Contemporary China from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore on a Fulbright Scholarship and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. He lives in New York City.

Episode Highlights

Major Takeaways

  • Republicans and Democrats both believe that the majority of the other political party holds extreme views. But extreme views are usually held by a much smaller percentage of people than we perceive. Remember that the loudest voices aren’t always representative of the mainstream.
  • The “perception gap” refers to how accurately we can identify another group’s beliefs. When we better understand the thinking of other groups, our perception gap shrinks.
  • People with large perception gaps are more likely to describe their opponents as hateful, ignorant and bigoted and seek out media that confirm these beliefs. This creates a vicious cycle of polarization as the Americans who are most engaged in political issues spend the most time reading, watching, and listening to media that portrays the other side as extreme. Consider changing your media diet if you find yourself thinking of the other political party as bigoted or hateful, as this may be a sign your perception gap is widening.
  • We need to build a “listening society” in which people across the political spectrum really hear each other and treat one another with dignity. Right now, we might think we’re becoming more informed, but too often we’re hearing a scrambled message. How do we tune the dial so we can actually hear?
  • Americans are beginning to recognize the extent to which we misunderstand each other. After the 2020 Presidential election, More in Common surveyed how Biden voters felt about Trump voters and vice versa.  Both sides named “confusion” as one of their most common emotional responses. Let’s use our confusion as impetus to talk to each other and discover what the other side really believes.

Take Action

Join Dan Vallone in discussion with David Jay, Head of Mobilization at the Center for Humane Technology, for our conversation series Let’s Talk on Friday, April 23rd at 12 PM ET/ 9AM PT. RSVP here.

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