Sunday, September 30, 2012

Political Polarization Over the Years

Polarization happens. We can all see it when we turn on the TV, go online, or do a variety of other things. One of the main ways we can see polarization in the world today, though, is in politics. Some may say it is worse now more than ever. Has the situation of politics always really been this extreme? Or has something changed over the years that perpetuated more hate between political parties and created a larger gap between the two?

First and foremost, I believe we should all know what polarization is referring to and how it is related to politics. According to Miriam Webster's Dictionary, polarization is defined as 'a division into two opposites' or 'the concentration about opposing extremes of groups or interests formerly ranged on a continuum'. So how does this tie into politics? You are probably all thinking "well of course political parties are opposites and they are the extremes of each other". Yes, they are opposites in a sense, but political parties are not supposed to be "divided" like is said in the definition. Political parties are meant to work together for the good of their country and the people in it. Over the years, this has not always continued to happen though.

Then and Now:

Would it be accurate to say that polarization has escalated over the last few decades? Yes, I believe this is a very accurate statement. This has appeared quite evident in politics, and politics has shown the severity of what polarization has come to today. As Brady and Han wrote in their article Polarization Then and Now, "The red states get redder, the blue states get bluer, and the political map of the United States takes on the coloration of the Civil War. Politics in the United States can now be characterized as an ideologically polarized party system" (119). Polarization has not always been this extreme through the years though.

According to some history analysts, there has only been two major times in history when there has been clear evidence of such extreme polarism as there is today: the switch from an agricultural to industrialized economy at the beginning of the 20th Century and the time of the Great Depression. These analysts say that these were major times of turmoil between the Republican and Democratic parties and these time periods showed the most major split between the two parties. In both of these periods in history, opposite political parties found reasons to blame each other for what was happening and often used anything they could as leverage against the other party. 

So how are these two times in American history different than what is going on in today's society? To me, I don't believe it is any different now than it was then; besides the fact that it is much more extreme in today's politics. You're probably wondering, "how is it any different from history, and what evidence is there that it is more extreme in today's society?" Well, turn on the T.V., or read a magazine, or even just your local newspaper, and you will find the answer. Almost everything in today's media has been turned into something that can be skewed and viewed with a negative connotation towards opposing parties/products/companies. 

Polarization continues to escalate and get more extreme as the years go by. I believe politics makes polarization that much worse though. I believe politicians and government are the main cause for such a large divide in our country because if they don't have that divide between parties or beliefs, they have no one to call the 'foe' and it can't be 'Us' versus 'Them'. 

How have past occurrences become more extreme in the world today?

As was shown in Brady and Han, elections are not as nationalized today as they have been in the past and this has led to increased polarization in the states. Over time, it has also been shown that the level of cohesion inside of political parties has increased since Civil War times, but analysts are not positive on how much. Looking past the unification of a party, when looking between the divide of parties, you will find that one political party votes more together now, but that also means this party is voting more against the other party, thus creating a more extreme divide. Can you imagine an election without polarization? It sounds crazy to all of us I'm sure. Even just by watching on T.V., we can see that political candidates out-rightly attack each other, and debates become almost a battle between two people; not the two opposing parties. Candidates begin to attack one another's personal beliefs and home lives and families, etc.; a campaign becomes a personal battle, not a battle of what is best for the country or the majority of people.

After watching this video, you might have a few concerns; because I know I do. First, why are these politicians so polarized towards each other when they are fighting for the same party? Should they not care more about the greater good of the nation to defeat the opposing party? Second, are they not able to have a civilized conversation where they don't interrupt each other and do not get very defensive about the things they have claimed? Lastly, it is extremely ironic that these politicians will bash each other during this debate when they are fighting against each other for the Democratic spot, but once the candidate is chosen and they are fighting against the Republicans, they go straight to degrading the candidate on the opposing party and act as if they have always been friends with the person in their party. Both Republican and Democratic parties are guilty of this, but why is this necessary? It is ridiculous that the people that may potentially run our nation can't sit down and have a civilized conversation about policies.

Many analysts say that during the Civil War was the only time that political parties were not able to reach a compromise on issues, but as the years go by, I think this country is headed towards that again. Politicians continue to become more extreme and more openly exhibit their hate towards other ideals, parties, or candidates. I think the media has caused a lot of this. The media blows things out of proportion and miscommunicates information, and this causes the escalation of hate in this country, which inevitably leads to a higher rate of polarization between people. People have become more extreme in the way they express their views, and this leads to larger controversy in the end. I'll reiterate what was said in Brady and Han:

Pundits and scholars alike assert the polarization of contemporary politics, portraying an ever widening chasm between Democrats and Republicans. The red states get redder, the blue states get bluer, and the political map of the United States takes on the coloration of the Civil War. Politics in the United States can now be characterized as an ideologically polarized party system.

So has much really changed since the times of the Civil War and before, in terms of polarization? To me, polarization has always, and will always be around, as long as people are still able to express their views openly and freely in this country. Polarization continues to escalate more and more as the years go by, and this is evident through politics and past experiences. As I close, I will leave you with a quote from Brady and Han: 

The lines between the parties on key issues of polarization therefore remain somewhat murky, and the responses of the electorate are challenging to interpret. Nonetheless, examining the present day in light of the past sheds some light on the ways in which today's politics is unique, and the ways in which it is a mirror of the past.

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