Main Cause of Division in America
Main Cause of Division in America
The United States of America is in such a state that a group of three or more citizens cannot have a modest conversation on politics without turning on each other and becoming hostile. Many citizens are too angry to listen because they are deeply rooted in the attributes of their party. It has reached a point where Americans cannot even agree on meanings for common words-especially those that have meaning for the nation’s most fundamental values. A good example is the word exceptional which to republicans means that Americans are greater compared to non-Americans and America is on a pedestal and other nations should emulate her. On the other hand, Democrats feel that other places are great as well and exceptional means there are a few things that other people admire about America (Boyd, 2017). The greatest cause of the rift in America can be attributed to political polarization. Political polarization is a vast gap between the Republicans (conservatives) and Democrats (Liberals) and has become a defining feature in American politics today. Republican and Democratic ideologies have been different for many years but partisan hostility has grown deeper and become more extensive than at any point in the nation’s recent history. These division trends manifest themselves in countless ways, both in daily life and in the political spectrum.
History and Causes of Political Polarization in America
Political polarization was an argument that was invented to inform the actions of activists and reformers on either side who acted willfully during the second half of the 20th Century to restructure either party and their activities around internally unified and equally distinct ideologies. There is evidence that political polarization long proceeded the age of the internet and was a cause of dynamics driven by the political elite. Polarization began with the political elites before moving to the public and creating a social identity that gave birth to party affiliation which consequently explains why polarization can turn into such deeply emotional deleterious responses to partisans of a different party.
However, before the different ideas were shaped into the political sphere of America or even before there was American politics, the British introduced four traditions that shaped much of what defined American political history. These traditions included representative democracy, geographic-based representation, plurality elections, and private property liberties. These traditions defined how polarization and depolarization occur in American politics.
In the early days when America was a young democracy, representative democracy and capitalism evolved together backed by the availability of natural resources that almost did not have a limit. Since the earliest British settled in America, individual ownership rights and representative democracy have mutually coexisted creating no space for any European style socialist party to thrive in the nation. This created what Louis Hartz termed “Liberal Tradition in America” (Ladewig, 2014). This created a situation where the American Political Sphere has always been bracketed on the left.
Geographical based representation was a result of the nature of the earliest settlements. After breaking away from the British, the American political system adopted geographical representation and abandoned the British idea of parties assigning individuals to represent a district. This incorporated regional interests within parties, which reduce the conflict within parties. A good example is, before the American Civil War, Democrats and the Whigs from the South shared an interest in representing the commercial issues of the South, which was based mainly on the export of their products, which included rice, cotton, and indigo among other items. These political factions contested the high tariffs that the manufacturing sectors from the North demanded every so often.
Then came non-proportional representation electoral system that was warranted by the Duverger’s Law and created the political spectrum that fathered division and intensified polarization. The non-proportion representation system of politics created a structure with two dominant parties. When the conflicts of the two parties become unidimensional – when matters secondary to the economy overtake it to become the main focus of conflict or when economic conflicts disappear overall. The former happened in the 1850s and focused on the issue of slavery and the consequences of the Civil War. The latter was experienced since the civil war and up to the 1930s, when the region divided due to issues such as civil rights.
The tenacious liberal-conservative dimensions dividing Democrats and Republican over the fundamental role of the government in the economy is the primary dimension recovered by Nominal Three-Step Estimation (NOMINATE) – which is a method based on the longitudinal theory of voting that mutually creates an estimate of the positions of political representatives and political outcomes in covert ideological space from perceived roll call voting behavior (Ladewig, 2014). NOMINATE helps with studying the phenomenon of political polarization by looking at the contents of the ideologies of Members of Congress (MC). This enables explicit comparisons of the ideological positions of an MC today and one who served in the second half of the 20th Century to try to explain why hate makes so much part of political promotions that it did half a century ago.
Issues such as the Southern realignment augmented and accelerated political polarization in the nation. Southern realignment began with the decrease in Democrats and an increase in Republicans in the South which resulted in increased ideological homogeneity between the two parties and their concentration in certain areas of the country. Between 1957-1958, 45 percent of Democrats in the Senate were from the South but by 1983, only 23 percent of Democrats came from this region. A similar phenomenon happened for Republicans from New England and the Mid-Atlantic States during the same period with their number in the Senate moving from 37 percent to 19 percent. The same realignment also happened in the House (Epstein & Graham, 2007).
Gerrymandering is also another reason that allows for political polarization to thrive (Barber & McCarty, n.d.). Giving state legislatures the power to draw district boundaries has created strong bipartisan and safe districts that mean some candidates are relived off competing for votes because the district has been redrawn in such a way that the majority of the voters are aligned with their party.
Consequences of Political Polarization
Political polarization has resulted in economic inequality in the country (Barber & McCarty, n.d.). Evidence exists that suggests economic inequality and political polarization have tracked together for the last half-decade. According to McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal (2016), political polarization and economic inequality share a dynamic relationship where augmented inequality as a result of rising top incomes generates electoral support for conservative economic ideas and expedites a shift to the right by Republicans (Ivin, 2016). The subsequent division then has a checking effect on the policy response to increased inequality, which consequently facilitates even more polarization and increased inequality. In general, the negative effects of polarization on social policy have increased economic inequality to significant proportions.
The social and political antagonism that follows polarization includes isolation in our own communities. Americans are continuously segregating themselves by political affiliation and ideology in their own community even in residential places. As more people move to areas, where other people with similar political ideas are, there is a great chance that people from either side will demonize each other little by little (Blanda, 2019).
The political culture in America is becoming more antagonistic as indicated by the negative political campaigns that are based on tearing rivals down than focusing on building up support for their own ideas. Looking at how this problem has grown, the 1960 campaigns had only about 10 percent of the political advertisements aired being negative as compared to only 12 percent of political advertisements being positive in 2012 elections.
Americans hate and judge the members of the other party. Being a democratic nation, political disagreement is protected by law by loathing opponents is not part of democracy. A pew poll during the 2016 election campaigns found that 47 percent of Republicans termed Democrats immoral while 35 percent of Democrats thought the same of their counterparts. This segregation has entered into the nation’s social network where it is becoming likely to find Republicans without or with only a few Democratic friends more likely to rate Democrats harshly than Republicans who have more friends from the other party.
It is very concerning to know that this division has found a way into the family sphere. A study conducted recently has indicated that thanksgiving dinners did not last long in areas where Americans shared a meal cross party lines. The effect was significantly augmented by the heavy political advertising where at least 34 million person-hours of cross-partisan dialogue were removed in 2016 owing to the effect of political polarization.
Americans are also suffering from the pressure to conform in their own groups. Beyond expressing in intergroup conflict, political polarization changes the dynamics within these groups as members are burdened with the responsibility of conforming to these beliefs and actions, which makes it highly unlikely to have internal dissent and diversity.
Voting for Policies and Not for Parties as a Solution to Division
The best way to deal with political polarization is by voting for policies and not for parties. A good lesson can be learned by an initiative from the United Kingdom called Vote for Policies. People can go through ideas or manifestos of parties and compare them for the sole reason that the work is cumbersome resulting in voting decisions that are based only on prejudices. Vote for Policies is an online service that presents users with a synopsis of the policies they choose and the party they belong to (Leadbetter, 2013). Users of the services select the policies on a range of key issues such as the economy, education and health without mentioning the party they belong to. At the end of the process, the user is presented with a summary of the policies, they feel matter and the party that fulfill these policies.
The electorate is just a bunch of followers who align with the most charismatic leader with celebrity endorsements and shows the most eloquent rhetoric. The electorate is inspired by such leaders due to a false emotion which gives the politician an excuse to take no clear position on fundamental issues. A good example is President Trump’s make “America Great Again” slogan and President Obama’s “Yes We Can” which have been accepted by the electoral not because of their attachment to crucial promises but due to their catchy nature. These phrases are becoming a norm in politics and every candidate will come up with one every time they pursue an electoral position.
Voting for policies and not for parties can capitalize on the fundamental needs of every citizen but making them aware that they are brought together by the pursuit of a sustainable life. No matter what party one is, every American wants the best healthcare there taxes can earn them. In order to achieve what they need from these parties and what these parties are mandated to do, Americans should move beyond the idea of party alignment and vote for what each individual believes in.
Barber, M. J., & McCarty, N. (n.d.). Causes and Consequences of Polarization. Solutions to Political Polarization in America, 15–58. doi:10.1017/cbo9781316091906.002
Blanda, S. (2019, August 31). The ‘Other Side? Is Not Dumb. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@SeanBlanda/the-other-side-is-not-dumb-2670c1294063
Boyd, D. (2017, January 5). Why America is Self-Segregating. Retrieved from https://points.datasociety.net/why-america-is-self-segregating-d881a39273ab
Epstein, D., & Graham, J. D. (2007). Polarized politics and policy consequences. Rand Corporation.
Ivin, J. (2016, April 1). I Know Why Poor Whites Chant Trump, Trump, Trump. Retrieved from http://www.stirjournal.com/2016/04/01/i-know-why-poor-whites-chant-trump-trump-trump/Ladewig, J. W. (2014). Polity Symposium: Partisan Polarization and American Democracy: 407-410
Leadbetter, S. (2013, July 30). If we voted for policies at elections, and not parties, the results might surprise us all. Retrieved from https://blueandgreentomorrow.com/society/if-we-voted-for-policies-at-elections-and-not-parties-the-results-might-surprise-us-all/
McCarty, N., Poole, K. T., & Rosenthal, H. (2016). Polarized America: The dance of ideology and unequal riches. mit Press.