Is Political Affiliation the New Black When it Comes to Discrimination?

Most lay people are thoroughly familiar with the usual categories of "protected" characteristics which cannot be considered in denying workplace opportunities -- e.g., race, gender, religion, disability, etc.  Less familiar is California's ban on discrimination based on one's political affiliations or activities.  

According to a new academic study, however, discrimination based on partisan politics is not only already rampant but rapidly increasing.  Dana Milbank of the Washington Post recently summarized the findings as follows: 

It has long been agreed that race is the deepest divide in American society. But that is no longer true, say Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood, the academics who led the study. Using a variety of social science methods (for example, having study participants review résumés of people that make both their race and party affiliation clear), they document that “the level of partisan animus in the American public exceeds racial hostility.”

Americans now discriminate more on the basis of party than on race, gender or any of the other divides we typically think of — and that discrimination extends beyond politics into personal relationships and non-political behaviors. Americans increasingly live in neighborhoods with like-minded partisans, marry fellow partisans and disapprove of their children marrying mates from the other party, and they are more likely to choose partners based on partisanship than physical or personality attributes.

“Unlike race, gender and other social divides where group-related attitudes and behaviors are constrained by social norms, there are no corresponding pressures to temper disapproval of political opponents,” they conclude. “If anything, the rhetoric and actions of political leaders demonstrate that hostility directed at the opposition is acceptable, even appropriate. Partisans therefore feel free to express animus and engage in discriminatory behavior toward opposing partisans.”

My guess is that the only reason political discrimination claims are not being filed is because practically no one is aware that this is, in fact, illegal under California law.  If this study is correct in concluding that animus against members of the "other" party already pervades our society it can only be a matter of time before such discrimination generates its own litigation boomlet.  


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