What is Partisan Polarization?
The political climate today is increasingly becoming more turbulent as Republicans and Democrats volley for superiority in Washington. The two parties are becoming more polarized by the hour, and this is affecting the ability of the government to move forward and pass legislation and continue to improve America. The Senate is in a state of gridlock on some of the most important issues to the people of the United States to date, and yet the senators which the people elected are instead caught up in fighting the people on the other side of the aisle. They should be listening to what their constituents need and want.
The impact of political partisanship appears to be increasing. As my colleague Jeff Jones has documented, the difference between Republicans' and Democrats' job approval ratings of President Donald Trump is the largest Gallup has ever measured for a president, eclipsing the already high polarization measured in approval of President Barack Obama. Pew Research recently reported on Americans' views of the opposite political party, concluding that "the level of division and animosity -- including negative sentiments among partisans toward the members of the opposing party -- has only deepened." An important review of academic research by journalist Thomas Edsall last year highlighted the degree to which the political polarization has increasingly taken on an emotionally negative tone. As Edsall notes: "Hostility to the opposition party and its candidates has now reached a level where loathing motivates voters more than loyalty," and "The building strength of partisan antipathy -- 'negative partisanship' -- has radically altered politics. Anger has become the primary tool for motivating voters." There Are Some Benefits of Increased Political Polarization Is this increasingly pervasive influence of party as a key and defining aspect of the way Americans look at the world around them good or bad? As is true with almost all such questions, the answer is complex. There are some benefits to individuals and society from political polarization and conflict between opposing viewpoints. As we know, the Founding Fathers anticipated there would be conflict between factions in our society and set up the three branches of our federal government to deal with them. If handled correctly, optimal solutions are more likely to emerge when everything is subject to skeptical analysis. (Along these same lines, billionaire Ray Dalio defines this process of constant questioning as the search for "radical truth" and contends it is a secret to his business success.)
There was a substantial increase in volume and cost of political ads from 2008 to 2012 and a substantial increase in attack ads from 51% of ads aired in 2008 were attack ads to 61% in 2012. At the same time, nonparty independent expenditures in congressional elections grew from $120 million in 2008 to $500 million in 2012. Perhaps there is a correlation between attack ads and raising campaign funds. A campaigns ability to demonize an opponent, which provokes fear and anger among his constituents, is enough to motivate the candidate’s base to donate and turn out to vote.Polarization in Congress is not new. The extent of Congressional polarization depends on many factors, one being Primary Elections. Elections in Primaries differ than those in a general election. In Primary elections candidates tend to shift their positions either to the left or right end of the spectrum. Once they secured their party’s nomination, they shift their position to a more moderate position to attract independent voters. Candidates follow this method of campaigning because Primary constituents are more extreme than those in a general election (Gary C. Jacobson, 2010). Elections in the America preserves American democracy. Allowing citizens to pick their representatives and replace those that under performed. “The threat of replacement provides elected officials with a powerful incentive to listen to their constituents.” Some voters may punish representatives that make an unpopular vote on issues by replacing him with another representative. This competition in primaries help create polarization within Congress. When faced with competition in the primary election candidates tend to take extreme positions. Republicans candidates that face no competition/opponent had an average primary position .and those that encountered an opponent had an average primary position of, a position further from the center. This is because primary voters care more about a candidate’s positions than the general election voting base. The 2010 Tea Party phenomenon is an example of extreme and engaged primary constituents. The Tea Party movement knocked mainstream conservatives out of the picture, which in turn, hurt the Republican Party in the general election because of their extreme positions. The extremism and activism that exists in primary elections contributes to the political polarization in America. The ideological divide between Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals is real (Barry Burden, 2001). Polarization is not only present in the branches of government but also among the people. The political system that has been created has contributed greatly to the growth of polarization. The foundations can be traced back to the media’s influence over the public, financing of campaigns and the manner in which the public selects representatives.
To summarize, political discourse is not confined to legislatures but is instead generated and encountered by private citizens in books, newspapers, and everyday political argument, and it reflects partisan differences both inside and outside the official institutions of government. Where these partisan ideas come from, how they are propagated, and whether they matter in shaping behavior and policy are important questions for students of politics.
Erika Franklin Fowler and Travis N. Ridout, “Negative, Angry, and Ubiquitous: Political Advertising in 2012”
Gary C. Jacobson, “The Electoral Origins of Polarized Politics: Evidence From the 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study.” American Behavioral Scientist 56(12) 1612–1630.
Barry Burden, “The Polarizing Effects of Congressional Primaries,” in Galderisi et al. (eds.), CONGRESSIONAL PRIMARIES AND THE POLITICS OF REPRESENTATION (2001).