The Polarization of American Politics


The Polarization of American Politics

A dangerous trend in American politics is on the rise. At an incredibly fast pace, political ideologies are spreading farther apart; you are either on the left, or on the right. There is a rapidly diminishing and soon to be endangered “middle ground” between the two sides. In my view, this “middle ground” is what keeps the United States democracy in check. Those who fall in the “middle ground” are the ones who share beliefs from both sides of the political spectrum. With the low voter turnout the United States faces, these voters are pivotal because they will often choose the leader who best represents both sides. As they begin to disappear, their critical decision making is leaving the main politicians to focus on who can build the largest army. “You’re either with me, or you’re a filthy [opposition party supporter].” Not only is this affecting campaign trails, but it has also lead to dysfunction in the White House. In order for the US democracy to continue to function to a high degree, bipartisanship is required to bring in legislation that is in the best interests of the entire American nation, rather than strict party supporters. This trend needs to come to a halt, before it’s too late.

The separation of ideologies has been more than anecdotal and an opinion. It’s happening. The Pew Research Centre (a historically well respected and nonpartisan organization) has polled the effect of polarization for several decades. The findings are disturbing. From 1994 to 2014, the aforementioned “middle ground” wherein ideologies overlap has diminished. The typical Republican supporter was more conservative than 70% of Democrats in 1994, and has since increased to 94%. As for the average Democrat, in 1994, their views were more liberal than 64% of Republicans, now they find themselves more liberal than 92% of Republicans. This paints a clear picture of the dissolution of American political beliefs. What was once a unified and proudly progressive nation, is now a game of seesaw back and forth between main parties. It has become so bad, that it’s almost expected for the House of Commons and the Senate to swap to the opposite party of the president, thus limiting the ability to make change. Another shocking statistic can be found by looking at the attitudes party supporters have about their opposition. Again, since 1994, those Republicans who have a “very unfavourable opinion” of the democratic party has risen 26% from 17% to 43%. Democrats who view the Republicans “very unfavourably” has risen 22%, from 16% to 38%. These kinds of views of opposition can be very dangerous as it illustrates a disregard for the opposition. Knowing your opponent as much as your party of choice is pivotal in making an educated decision on election day, as well as for the benefit of increasing your own knowledge.

These statistics have a very clear impact on the White House, but what is even more scary is the impact on American society and pop culture. With the rising use of smartphones in the past ten years, there’s a new phenomena taking politics and society by storm: A personal bias bubble. As you continue to use your phone for various applications and google searches, your phone builds an understanding of your preferences and tendencies. Your phone then can come up with suggestions as to what you might be looking for from even one or two words. For example, as I was writing this essay, I made a few searches to acquire some research on the subject, now, if I type even “po”, google chrome auto-suggests “Polarization of American Politics”. If I were to type “Tr” I get auto-suggested “Trump Impeachment”. As you can see, my tendency to look up certain things is now being reflected back at me, regardless if I was searching for the same topic or not. But the browser auto-suggestion algorithms are not nearly as damaging as the algorithms used in social media applications. From the very moment you sign up for these services, your personal beliefs and biases are being evaluated. The application will give you a broad scope of things to follow to “get you started”. As soon as you select one or two from the broad list, the list will update to ask you to follow related accounts and people. It doesn’t just end after you’ve finished the sign up process, sometimes when scrolling through your “feed” you’ll find posts from accounts you aren’t even following. In Twitter’s case, they justify this by saying they included it “based on your other interests”. For a long time, I fell victim to this, as of course I would like to hear more from accounts that share the same beliefs as me! I also took part in many discussions in the reply section, which often consisted of many left-wing people talking smack of those on the right. However, I quickly realised I wasn’t seeing the big picture. I quickly started to follow sources that completely contradict my own beliefs as a way to even out what I was seeing, and I definitely think it was for the better. Still, I see replies to posts on both sides of the spectrum completely bashing the opposition with no opposition in sight. These people are the majority. It scares me more and more every time I see it, as people have created terms to describe the other people as if they weren’t really even people at all. Many call these “blanket terms” as they cover a wide array of people and their beliefs. I’ve heard “fake news” to describe all left-wing news sources, personal terms such as “dotard” to describe the right wing trump supporters, as well as “libtard” to counter it against the left. Many intelligent and measured responses to posts are responded to with belittlement and name-calling rather than intelligent discussion. There is an absolute refusal to acknowledge the oppositions’ beliefs. This leads me to my conclusion.

How can we fix this? Well, we can’t, really. This Trump presidency surely doesn’t help things. Many say his office is going to be an outlier in the grand scheme of things and this trend will lighten up in the future. However, I disagree. People are more engulfed in their personal belief bubbles than ever. The end of the Trump presidency does not remove the biases inflicted on people’s phones. The bubble will continue to grow until disaster strikes. A country no longer polarized, but divided. Fights breaking out, marches taking place. This fight is apposition versus opposition; the end result will be a coming together of a nation, or a brutal tear.