Political Communication   Social Change  

A Path Toward Depolarization

This is an excerpt from an article published in the fall 2023 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The article, co-authored by Angela Bradbery, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Frank Karel Endowed Chair in Public Interest Communications, examines how public interest communications offers solutions in a polarized world. The article is available free until Sept. 21, 2023. After Sept. 21, a subscription is required. 

By Angela Bradbery and Jane Johnston

Headlines in the United States tell of bitter political polarization. Take gun control, for instance. Mass shootings have become all too common, followed by news stories that imply that reform efforts are doomed. “As Mass Shootings Continue, Gridlock on Guns Returns to Washington,” laments a January 24, 2023, headline from The New York Times after two shootings in California.

But the truth is more complex than the headlines suggest. Although the gun-safety movement has faced serious setbacks, it has also seen gains. Poll after poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly want to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, and in some states, legislators from both sides of the aisle have responded. In 2018, in the wake of a high-school shooting that left 17 dead in Parkland, Florida, 26 US states and Washington, DC, passed gun-safety laws, including 12 legislatures led by Republicans. Delaware’s red-flag law, which permits police to seize the firearms of those whom mental-health professionals have deemed a threat to themselves or others, passed unanimously that year. Even the sharply divided US Congress in June 2022 passed modest gun-safety reforms as well, with more than two dozen Republicans voting for them.

As academics developing the field of public interest communications, we understand the wisdom of an approach that speaks to commonalities instead of differences. We live on opposite sides of the globe and have divergent definitions of public interest communications. But we share several common principles—and we believe these commonalities are critical to addressing the dangerous, often entrenched, political and social polarization that has developed in the United States and elsewhere around the world.

Read the full article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (available free to non-subscribers until Sept. 15, 2023).

Posted: September 7, 2023
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