Political Polarization in America

As many rejoice in the newfound political success of the Democratic party, millions others feel alone and devastated following the election of Vice President Joe Biden, a stark political contrast that will pose significant difficulties to the upcoming presidency.



Tuesday November 3rd. A day of turmoil, of stress, and of worry that would decide the fate of the world for the following four years: the general election of the United States of America. uch of the world stopped to watch. On that harrowing night, all stood motionless in front of their televisions, awaiting and anticipating the arrival of the new President of the United States. Finally, after a week of angst and anticipation, on November 7th Joe Biden was announced the new President-elect of America. The stress of the election, the worries, and the anxieties all went away as the democratic supporters rejoiced at the victory of their political party. All was well in the United States, or so it seemed. What many failed to perceive, however, was that while Biden’s supporters rejoiced and crowded the streets with protests of joy, many others, approximately 74,113,538 Americans remained at home, shocked and devastated at the loss of the Republican party. This huge contrast in reactions may seem normal, as the elections of the United States of America have recently been very controversial and have always been very narrow when it came to their outcome. However, the effects of the Trump presidency and the looming Biden campaign have only worsened this antagonism. Through aggressive political practices, among other things, the United States are in the midst of a political crisis: an unrivaled and stark political divide.


This political phenomenon that has dawned upon the United States is commonly referred to as political polarization. Political polarization, as defined by the dictionary, is “the divergence of political attitudes to ideological extremes,” referring to the divide created between two leading political parties of a country found on the opposite sides of the ideological spectrum. This phenomenon has plagued many of today’s democratic states. According to a study conducted by BBC’s Ipsos Mori with 19,400 subjects in 23 different countries, 76% of people worldwide feel their country is divided, and 59% feel this divide has increased in the past 10 years. This divide is evident: Liberals vs Conservatives in Canada, Progressives vs Socialists in Serbia, Bharatiya Janatas vs the Communists in India, and the list goes on. However, none is stronger and more divided than that of the United States’ battle between the Democrats and the Republicans.



The United States have one of the highest levels of political adversity, unimaginable in other countries. By observing the following graph created by the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Levi Boxwell, Matthew Gentzkow, and Jesse M. Shapiro, we see that the trend that has overcome the United States is evident. Affective polarization, that is the animosity felt between two political parties, is steadily increasing in the United States at a rapid pace. In fact, the United States has the fastest increasing affective polarization in the world, while some countries like Germany and Sweden are even witnessing a downwards trend.


To make things worse, the levels of animosity in the US have never been higher. According to behavioural research conducted by the Pew Research Centre in Washington DC, the polarization in the United States is at its all time high and has been rapidly increasing since 1994.




The research shows that 27% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans see the opposing party not only as an inconvenience, but as a threat to the nation’s well being. This statistic about the dramatic increase in divide from 2004 to 2014 came as a shock to many. According to these researchers, "the level of division and animosity -- including negative sentiments among partisans toward the members of the opposing party -- has only deepened."This research highlights a frightening statistic in America: there is no tolerance for political debates and/or discussions. Seeing the other party as a threat makes political debates a very annoying inconvenience for many. The critical spirit of the American people is being compromised and it will be very difficult to work backwards to restore the vibrancy of the political debate.


The research additionally shows the quasi disappearance of the median political citizen who is neutral and can be swayed to one party or the other. As can be observed in the chart above, the majority of the supporters of each Democratic party have identified themselves as consistently liberal or conservative, a notable increase since 2004 and 1994. According to American journalist, Thomas Edsall, “hostility to the opposition party and its candidates has now reached a level where loathing motivates voters more than loyalty.” This perspective strongly undermines the US electoral system. Instead of voting for someone they support, the majority of Americans vote for the party that opposes the one they hate, as was the case with Donald Trump.


While some believe this divide is in the past, the evidence of a heightened political divide in today’s world is shattering. The hate that is present among both parties is despicable. Take Democratic Senator Alexandria Occasio Cortez and other democratic supporters who have called for the blacklisting of all those who worked for, and even elected, Donald Trump. In a tweet dated back to November 6, Cortez wrote:


Soon after, hundreds of supporters, including ex-senator Mikcheal Simon, took to social media to express their consent with this plan, writing tweets along the lines of "every Administration staffer, campaign staffer, bundler, lawyer who represented them — everyone.". When supporters of the opposing party are seen as criminals and evil figures, those who support democracy should be frightened


It all seems outrageous and has even been compared by some to the House Committee on Un-American Citizens, or HUAC, in the 1940s and 50s, a committee that stripped actors, playwrights, novelists and citizens of their power and rights after being falsely associated with the communist party, an ode to a vile chapter in American history. The Trump Accountability Report is unfathomable in today’s world and totally contradicts fundamental principles of democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom of vote.


The problem continues, however, in the Republican party as well. Acts such as Trump’s open denial of the political and democratic system of the United States only inflate the issue. Yes, Trump had the legal right to contest the election, but did he have a moral one? Contesting an election is meant to be done when the results are very close and too difficult to call. In this year’s election, Biden took the win with what some considered to be a “landslide.” It then became immoral and futile for Trump’s administration to continue creating problems and contesting the election. This not only undermines the integrity of the political system, but it also seeds doubt in the citizens of the country, a process that simply makes Biden’s role as President even harder. It leads a portion of the population to believe false accusations and false claims, leading to confusion and mass hysteria in the country.


A final example of today’s divide is the overuse of insults and political abuse from both parties. In past years, insults and political digs have become a regular feature of the political playbook. Insults are being thrown around in Congress, politicians are openly insulting each other in person and on social media, and the vulgarity of the presidential debates are spiking. It seems that having a political discussion without vulgarity is virtually impossible. According to Pew Research, 61% of Americans say that having a respectful tone in the presidential debate is important, yet 25% say that this was the case in the 2016 debate. Presidents and senators alike use insults as a daily occurrence to bring down the “enemy”.



A notorious such example is President Trump’s flying insults: “Sleepy Joe,” referring to President-elect Biden and “Crazy Nancy” as a reference to Speaker of the House Pelosi. Although seemingly effective and common today, this verbal abuse is more of a political nuisance than an effective tool.



What does this mean for the United States, and maybe even the world? At first glance, it would seem that political polarization is concerning only during election time, as it creates stress and makes the election process very difficult. Yet, this issue also causes many deep-rooted problems for the country’s government. Imagine having to lead 350 million Americans, half of whom are completely opposed to your government’s party, while others feel as though you are a threat to the nation’s wellbeing. This is the tough reality for Joe Biden. Having to manage such a shocking divide is quite seemingly impossible. This polarization even continues into Congress. According to a study by Pew Research center, the last 4 years of Trump’s presidency saw an unprecedented amount of ties broken by the Vice President. When the Senate is at a stalemate and a split majority, the Vice President has the duty of interfering and casting his vote to break this tie. From 2016 to 2020, Vice President Mike Pence broke an astonishing 13 ties, compared to Joe Biden’s zero during Obama’s presidency. This statistic simply shows the staggering divide in the political organs of the United States government. This divide makes the establishment, passing, and approval of bills, laws, and regulations a Herculean task.


The list goes on and on with new statistics showing Americans’ opposing views on the economy, health care, and any other major political issue. There is an abundance of statistics that will all show you the same thing: the US is deeply divided and this issue is getting progressively worse. The governance of such a state will become harder and harder unless something is done to prevent or alleviate the situation. Action must be taken immediately, and luckily, Biden has already initiated this process. In his initial address as the new President-elect of the country, Biden made sure to include a sentence or two about the divide in the United States and how he sees everyone as Americans and not as Republicans or Democrats. In the official transcript of his speech, he wrote:


“I pledge to be a President who seeks not to divide, but to unify.

Who doesn’t see Red and Blue states, but a United States.”

This is a wonderful leap in the right direction of political leadership. By uniting the people and having them feel as though they are all in the same boat, Biden is successfully diminishing the hostility felt between the parties, or so we hope. We can never know the true feeling of every single American citizen, but we can anticipate that with the proper direction and governance, President-elect Biden will be able to reduce the level of polarization in the United States. Maybe in 4 years, when I am writing the next article on the American election, I’ll have something different to say. Something positive. For now, we can only observe, wait, watch, and hope.


Bibliography:


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