A new kind of political compass: The BridgeUSA Temperament Scale

The BridgeUSA Team

For the past few years, we’ve all watched conversations about issues we care about be taken over by political toxicity and hyper-partisanship. The loudest and most extreme voices have been amplified, and are positioned to speak on behalf of everyone on one side of an issue or another.

Not only does this set a negative precedent for broader political dialogue, but it further perpetuates the idea that Americans are too divided to work together. In the bridging space, we’re challenging this idea by introducing a new kind of political compass based on temperament rather than ideology.

The BridgeUSA Temperament Scale is a measurement of how willing someone across the political spectrum is to engage with those who believe differently. Its purpose is to show that someone can fall along many points within the political spectrum (x-axis), however it’s how they engage that matters most (y-axis)!

In April this year, a series of protests broke out on college campuses across the country in response to the Gaza war. While much of the media coverage focused on instances of vandalism, name-calling and aggression (further up the y-axis on the scale), what we didn’t see were students at many of these universities sitting down for dialogue on the war. 

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Jewish and Arab students sat down to have a productive conversation across pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian lines. They weren’t forced to compromise or find common ground, but instead, encouraged to listen to each other.

We’ve had similar experiences at our chapters. After Oct 7, over 21 BridgeUSA college and high school chapters were able to successfully hold discussions on the war with their peers of Jewish, Muslim, Arab and Israeli ties.

What made these discussions possible? 

These students all fell on different sides of the Israel-Palestine debate, however how they engaged was what made the conversation possible. Not only that, but the conditions and permission structure existed to have the dialogue. This is something that doesn’t exist in our broader politics.

In 2018, Heineken launched its “Worlds Apart” campaign to show there’s more that unites us than divides us. This campaign took a look at the real world and created a space for people on extreme opposites to have a conversation over a beer. The result was a 7.3% increase in beer sales in the UK over a 12-week period following the campaign, and 78% of consumers felt closer affinity to the brand. Overall, this campaign showed two things: 1) The idea that we can have conversations across our differences resonates across the world. And 2) These polar opposites were able to have a discussion because the permission structure in that environment allowed them to be open-minded and more willing to listen to each other.

In this age of division, the key to solving challenges is not just having the dialogue, it’s figuring out how to shift the norms so that we can have discussion. 

Right now, bad actors, partisan jabs and “Us-v-Them” framing is amplified most in our politics. What if we could incentivize an approach to politics that champions understanding, empathy, open-mindedness and constructive engagement? This is already happening in pockets across the country and within the bridge-building space, but the work doesn’t stop there.

While there are thousands of people out there who want to have the discussion, and thousands more who are tired of division in our politics, there is also a large group of people who tend to keep their heads down and stay out of the conversation altogether (lower down the y-axis).

BridgeUSA students discuss Israel-Palestine in Fall 2023.

After talking with several students over the years, we’ve found that many of them feel scared to have dialogue because the narrative has been controlled by the extremes. In fact, the Buckley Institute found that almost 60% of college students feared sharing an opinion in classrooms or on campus. 

This sentiment travels beyond the realm of higher education and into the broader public as well. In 2020, the Cato Institute found that 62% of Americans say the political climate these days prevents them from sharing their views fully. 

This is antithetical to our democracy! In order for our country to succeed, we need to be able to talk to each other.

You may be wondering how discussion is even possible in such a polarized environment. However, Axios recently found “compelling evidence we’ve been trapped in a reality distortion bubble caused by social media, cable TV and tribal political wars. All of these have convinced us our divides are greater than they are.

Between those of us who want to have the dialogue, those of us who are tired of the extremes dictating the conversation, and those of us who are just trying to get by, a new group is created. We’re calling this group the new Silent Majority. What unites us is our frustration with the status quo and a desire for real change. Does this sound like you? You might be one of us!

We strongly believe in our ability to hold strong beliefs while being able to express them in a constructive manner. We believe that wanting a dialogue doesn’t make you a centrist. We are calling for a better approach to politics that doesn’t focus primarily on Left or Right, but how you engage across these differences.