In his article “The Evolution of ‘Red,’ ‘Blue,’ States of Mind,” former president of NBC News Frank Reuven points out that the practice of coloring in the states on an outline United States map to show which party had won that state’s electoral votes dates only to 1976. Not until the campaign of 2000, however, did the two colors become a metaphor for a deeply polarized country, and part of the language.
Two students at Missouri State University illustrate the gray areas. Shelby Park, 21, is a pre-law criminology major who considers herself a liberal. Amanda Schreiber, 20, studying communication sciences and disorders, considers herself a conservative. Both are Missouri natives.
Park was born in St. Louis and grew up in the suburbs of Wentzville with her mother, father, and younger sister. She describes herself and her family as upper middle class. She also describes her family as extremely liberal. She recalls her aunt wearing “Bush sucks” T-shirts and her parents giving money annually to a variety of not-for-profit organizations, such as PBS.
Contrary to her family's ability to pay for her schooling, Park earned a scholarship to pay for her tuition and works as a waitress at Golden Corral to earn money for rent and other expenses. She spends most of her time working and preparing for graduate school, but she also finds time for other activities, such as student government.
Schreiber also was born in St. Louis but grew up in Eureka with her mother, father, and two sisters. She, too, had a suburban upbringing, but with much different economic status. She characterizes her family as working class.
Schreiber's parents amassed a large amount of debt, forcing her father to work many hours of overtime each week in order to support them. Her mother could not work due to mental illness. She does not have a scholarship, but instead relies on grants and loans to pay for tuition and books. She lives in a residence hall on the Missouri State campus with her roommate and attends Campus Crusade for Christ meetings every week. Because of a back injury she suffered in high school, Amanda cannot perform many of the jobs available to full-time students. Instead she finds work helping in various campus offices when she can.
She is pro-life, for the Iraq War, against embryonic stem cell research, and a supporter of President Bush. She said that her morals and her beliefs as a Christian both play a large role in her political beliefs and voting habits.
The two women took the Political Compass test on www.politicalcompass.org, a free online questionnaire designed to show where a person stands politically. Rather than the traditional horizontal line used to represent the political spectrum as the extreme right, the extreme left, and everything in between, Political Compass attempts to explain political ideology using four dimensions to more accurately represent the complexity of people’s economic and social views.
Park's answers placed her in close quarters with Gandhi and the Dalai Lama. She said that she was satisfied with her test results and thought that they accurately represented her views and voting habits.
She is pro-choice, against the war in Iraq, a supporter of embryonic stem cell research, and not a supporter of President Bush, although she said that she feels no hostility toward him. She said that she is not swayed by religious dogma but votes for what she thinks would be best for everyone.
As far as her family’s political views go, Schreiber described her family as “conservative Christian people.” Her own Political Compass results placed her almost exactly at the center of the grid between Pope Benedict XVI and Jacques Chirac, in the middle of the economic scale and only slightly above the center of the social scale. She said that she was surprised by these results and expected to plot much further to the right.
On the issue of gay marriage in which liberals and conservatives seem to be fundamentally split, Park is emphatically in favor of gay marriage and sees any marriage not as a religious issue but as a legal one.
“I think the government should stay out of people’s bedrooms,” she said.
Schreiber is against the idea of gay marriage because of her religious beliefs. Although she would vote against the concept, she said she understands why some people would vote in favor of it.
“They have just as much opportunity to shape the government by their votes, too,” she said.
The moment that Park realized where she stood politically was in her senior year in high school when she had to pick a former U.S. president and defend one of his policies. She chose a president who had taken an incredibly strict stance on welfare. When her mother asked her if she actually supported this policy, she realized that she did not.
“In my mind it’s worse to have people who really need it not be able to get it, than to have a couple people slip through the cracks who don’t need it,” she said.
Welfare, it seems, is an issue that Park and Schreiber can agree on.
Schreiber, whose mother and sister both collect disability, said she used to believe that people on disability or welfare were simply lazy for allowing the government to support them.
But now, “Having two family members that are on disability, I know that there are people that abuse the system, and there are people that legitimately need the government help,” she said.