Through has been the year of Donald Trump in

Through the course of this research paper we
will evaluate the political polarization within the United States to answer a
few critical questions: 1) are we currently at a heightened level of political
polarization within the country? and 2) if there is political polarization,
what are the driving factors? Answering these two critical questions will allow
us a better understanding of our democratic system, and what it has naturally
grown to become.

What is political polarization? Political polarization is simply a measured
overlap between the two parties. A high level of political polarization means
that Republicans agree with the Republican platform and that Democrats agree
with the Democratic platform. These platforms obviously change overtime, and
lines on policy may overlap between the two political parties, which is how we
end up with a compromise or bipartisan resolve. But as of recent it seems that
both the Democratic and Republican platforms have sharpened their views and
policy plans, which in return leaves us with increased levels of polarization.
Political polarization is a natural and regular occurring phenomenon that
happens across the world. Even though mainstream media would make you believe
that we have never had polarization until the 2016 election. 

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Since the run up to the 2016 US presidential
elections, journalist have frequently spoke of cultural wars between the the
political liberals and conservatives. The whole political climate today seems to be
increasingly more turbulent, as we turn on the news it seems like all we see is
our elected officials arguing on two opposite sides of the divide, with
absolutely no chance of compromise or bipartisan resolve. This has effected
both the house and senate from carrying out their appointed jobs, of serving
the American people through legislation. This has been the year of Donald Trump
in the executive office. The year Republican primary voters overwhelmingly
supported and applauded nonconventional policy proposals to “build the wall”
and ban Muslims from entering the country. It has also been on of the first
years in which the Democrats openly endorsed self proclaimed socialists, like
Democratic senator Bernie Sanders (senator from VA). The year in which many Democrats
favor higher top tax rates, and $15 minimum wages.

We look at the news and social media live streams,
and all we see is protest from both sides of the spectrum, even during times of
heightened violence. The leading issue with party polarization, is
that the American political system usually requires bipartisan agreement in
order to get things done. During periods of intense political polarization, it
is immensely difficult for such bipartisan coalitions to even form. We must ask our selves if this societal divide
is just a part of our democracy, or will it be the year in which leads us to an
extremely polarized society, in which we believe those who don’t adhere to our
political beliefs are attempting to destroy the country, and everything it
stands for.

brings up our first question: are we truly at a heightened level of political
polarization within the country? Or, have we seen this before. Our country has
seen many great political divides within its history; in the 19050’s and 60’s
civil rights had split the country in half. In 1980, we elected an actor as
president, which was considered extremely controversial by the opposite side of
the political divide. On top of all of this, commentators and the general
public were biting their nails at the prospect of him bringing us to to a
nuclear holocaust with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In the 1860’s, the
two opposing political factions even went to war with each other, during the
Civil War. By looking at the data, I like many others believe that the currant
state of political polarization within American politics, is overwhelmingly
overstated. The constant fear mongering of the news and social media has made
us believe that we are currently going through a political phenomenon, bringing
our country on the brink of another Civil War. But in reality, political
polarization is just the way in which democracy functions. A healthy democracy,
needs different ideologies on each side of the divide to represent the voters.

Pew Research Center published a survey in 2014,
titled: “Political Polarization in the American Public,” they attempted to draw
an overly broad circle around the current political discourse and polarization
within the country. As shown in Table #1, they attempted to shown political
polarization within the party its self, but not within the actual American


















Table #1 (PEW Research)


The title: “Political Polarization in the
American Public,” is an inaccurate characterization of the findings. In common
parlance polarization connotes a movement away from the center toward both
extremes. Which has not happened in the United States. If one thinks about
polarization in partisan terms, one would expect to see an increase in the
proportions of Democrats and Republicans and a decrease in the proportion of
independent voters.

Morris Florina of the Washington Post, is one
of the few journalist who has spoken the truth about political polarization, he
sais;  “the American National Election Studies report that the
distribution of American partisanship has been constant since the reelection of
Ronald Reagan in 1984” (Florine, 2014). He goes on to explain that, Gallup had the proportion of independents at an all-time high
in 2013 (J. Jones, 2014, Gallup).An if one thinks about polarization in actual  ideological terms, one would expect to see a
decline in moderates and an increase in liberals and conservatives (J. Jones,
2014, Gallup). The General Social Survey, even 
reported that American political ideologies have been quite stable since
the early 1970s. Florian goes on to further his point by saying “”moderate”
remains the modal category today just as it was in the days of Jimmy Carter” (Florine,2014).

If we think about polarization in terms of
positions on specific policy issues, we would expect to see a decline in the
center and a lumping up of people on the extreme left or right. We do not have
long time series of attitudes toward particular policy issues since they rise
and fall on the national agenda, but on most issues, attitudes continue to
cluster in the middle rather than lump up on the extremes
(liberals/conservative). In closing, we can argue about the size of the
political center in the United States since the answer depends on various ways
of measuring it, but whichever measure we choose, the conclusion is the same:
the country as a whole is no more polarized than it was a generation ago, but
there is polarization with in the parties themselves.  Each party’s platform has sharpened to adjust
to these changes. That’s part of the reason in which we see President Trump
openly discuss immigration policy more frequent or, why we see democrats openly
speak about switching to the Single Payer health insurance system. In the past
these topics my have been considered somewhat of a political taboo, have only
just became the norm. For candidate to target certain groups, or for the advocating
of policies that may be regarded as contrary to capitalism.


Weather academics or the common citizen believe
that political polarization is at an all time high, one thing for sure is that
we talk about it more now then ever before. The media it’s self has emerged to
be much like the picture that it has created of society; polarized. Modern day
media outlets have also been divided by political lines, with Fox New and Breitbart
News on the conservative/Republican side of the aisle, and CNN News and MNBC
News (to just name a few) on the liberal/Democratic side of the aisle. Since
freedom of press is legally protected within our country, many of these news
outlets have learned that it is more beneficial in regard to views, by slightly
tilting towards one of the parties. This is because every news event has a
political side to it. If they’re is a mass shooting within the country, we
automatically start talking about gun policy and the 2nd Amendment
and turn to the media to see what our elected representatives are doing about

In connection with, many political journalists
and commentators diagnose a sharp and increasing partisan divide that splitting
apart the U.S. electorate (D. Berhardt. 2016). For example, “the Economist writes that “the
50-50 nation appears to be made up of two big, separate voting blocks, with
only a small number of swing voters in the middle”, and that “America is more bitterly
divided than it has been for a generation”. In contrast, Fiorina, Abrams, and
Pope (2004) argue that even though partisans may be more partisan, there is a
large center of voters who are largely ambivalent or indifferent and that
“there is little evidence that Americans’ ideological or policy positions are
more polarized today then they were two or three decades ago, although their
choices often seem to be.” (D. Berhardt. 2016, pg.1-2). To accurately measure polarization within the
current political process, we mustn’t worry about the voters who identify with
one of the parties on the political divide, but instead those centrists in the
middle of both political parties. If more of the centrists joined ether side,
then we know theirs a problem. But, this is not the case at the current time.

Since they first formed at the end of the
eighteenth century, the major American parties have basically always been
polarized over some set of policy issues. The most famous, and obviously the
most tragic example is, slavery. But, “battles over issues like the relative
power of the national and state governments (embodied in the early debates
about a national bank), the Gold Standard, the New Deal, and civil rights
resulted in deep divisions between the nation’s political parties” (Carsey, 2012, Pg.21). Party polarization is not new. In fact, a
primary function of political parties is to attempt to organize political conflict, providing some clear
policy separation between the parties virtually inevitable. Each party need the
other to fulfill our democratic criteria.

To the extent that political polarization is
really rising, what is the cause? An early, influential example of this
argument is the book by Cass Sunstein (2001). Sunstein argues that
the Internet is creating “echo chambers,” where partisans will hear their own
opinions, biases and prejudices endlessly reinforced. He writes: “Our
communications market is rapidly moving” toward a situation where “people
restrict themselves to their own points of view—liberals watching and reading
mostly or only liberals; moderates, moderates; conservatives, conservatives;
Neo-Nazis, Neo-Nazis” (Sunstein, pg. 5-6). This increases polarization and
limits the “unplanned, unanticipated encounters that are central to democracy
itself” ( 9).

The media in all of it’s forms (televised news
outlets, social media outlets, internet blogs..etc) have all played a
significantly noted role in the polarization of American politics. Back in the
1980’s (and before), the media was a mostly neutral source of information.
Today it has gone through quite the evolution, drawing their opinions around
party lines. Networks like Fox News almost never call out the republican party,
or it’s supporters. Same goes for liberal MSNBC, who is predominantly used as a
microphone for the democratic party, and other liberals. This whole fiasco of
the media networks taking sides in the 2016 election became so obvious, that
politicians from both sides of the political divide called them out as “fake
news”, at phrase that is regularly used by president Trump.

Markus Prior, the writer of “Media and
Political Polarization” put together three different surveys from Nielsen, PEW,
and KN asking television news network viewers how long they they watch their
favorite news channel, and if they every overlap into different channels, and
if so, roughly how long (Table #2).  Each
survey has slightly different results regarding scale. But, in general he found
that “audience overlap, the share of viewers of one
channel who also watch another, provides some insight into selective exposure.
Minimal overlap between audiences for conservative and liberal channels would
correspond to strong selective exposure.” (Prior, pg.113).  Though there are  general errors in which he ran into with
consolidating these survey’s (sampling,
measurement, coverage and non-response), he managed to draw a linear
relationship between people who watch a lot of daily news, and their far
right/left political affiliations (Table #2). This further proves that the
media is an outlining cause of political polarization within American politics
and society.


Table #2 (Prior, pg.113)


predominant driving factor of political polarization within the United States
in the rise of populism. Populism within it’s essence, is the public/citizen’s participation
in the government, or mobilization of citizens to change the current political
structuring (Hetherington.2006). This includes participation in free and fair
elections, democratic institution, etc… Populism is a fundamental part of the
American democratic process and identity. Voters protected under the United
States Constitution and the Bill of Rights practice populism by voting and
mobilizing for their representative to “shake up” the current political
structure (Hetherington.2006). This form of voter mobilization also effects
public institutions, since these representatives can ether appoint a new head
of the institutions, or vote to adjust federally provided funding. Far right
populism is one of the main reasons that President Donald J. Trump won the 2016
presidential election. Many Republican affiliated citizens felt alienated by
their current political representatives, and felt that Trump who promised to
revolutionize the political land scape (drain the swamp, tough on immigration
et…), was more aliened with their own political beliefs. His supporters grew,
and mobilized around him to win the election.

Populism seems great for the political process at
first glance, but nevertheless it is a huge contributor to political
polarization within our political system. Populism and political polarization
have an entrenched relationship across history, and the around the world.        Depending on the level of populism, and
the type of call of action/mobilize for government change, you could be looking
at groups of people going to the poles at election day (Trump 2016), or you
could be looking at a political meltdown, violent protests (also Trump 2016),
and even Civil War.

 When a
group of citizens mobilizes around a candidate /movement to enact change within
the government, they tend to attract like minded people from the same side of
the political aisle. The issue with this is that, populism usually attracts
groups of people that feel alienated by the government. Within or democratic
process, the alienated group has every right to mobilize and enact change, as
long as it is within the bases of the law. But this rarely happens due to
pushback from the elites, and from the government itself. As the alienated
group grows in size and power, depending on how institutionalized the said
countries is, they will ether have a voice within the government, or they may
resort to violence. Through out the Arab Spring, we saw groups of alienated
people, resort to violence because their governments failed to hear them out and
negotiate them a fair say within the government. This is a very relevant
example of widespread populism, on an international scale. For populist
movements to be considered successful

Many can argue the political atmosphere within
the United States has recently become more polarized, within the Trump Era of
politics. This is largely due to how president Trump got to power, he road on a
populist wave. During Trump’s whole presidential campaign, he appeled to those
within the Republican platform who felt that their current representative was
not truly representing their beliefs. He ran his campaign by playing off of the
identity politics of many low income Americans living in rural areas who felt
that politicians have only taken advantage of the. Since Trump and his staff
knew that there were such hard feelings against politicians within the country,
he ran his campaign and message predominately off of the fact that he has never
been a politician but a “self” made businesses man.

Trumps campaign may have slight driven the rise
of polarization within the country because he appealed to parts of the
Republican party that did not have such a loud voice at the time. This group of
alienated far-right conservatives are now louder then before, and since they
are on the far-right side of the political aisle, they are and will be met with
opposition on the far left side of the political aisle.  This type of scenario forces moderates on
both sides of the political spectrum to have to side with those who fall within
their party’s umbrella. Thus, the political party will eventually have to sharpen
their policy format to meet the beliefs of its’ supporters. This type of
scenario causes political polarization with in both parties, but still hasn’t
really effected independents (centrists) (J. Jones, 2014, Gallup).

conclusion, political polarization can be a very real and relevant thing. In
this day of age, the media and populism can both be strong driving factors. The
relevance of polarization in modern day America can also highly depend on you
define it. Many academics and institutions seem to define is as being a phenomenon
across the whole political spectrum (including centrists joining the
right/left) The media and less credible sources seem to define it in whatever
way supports their political message, even if they are only talking about internal
polarization (only inside party lines), they seem to paint the whole country as
being polarized. We must bear in mind, that internal movement within party
lines is a very normal occurrence with in a democratic system. The only thing
that seems to always stay the same within our current political system, is
voters party identification itself. There is long family histories of
Republican and Democratic voters across the country, even if the individual
doesn’t necessarily agree with the whole party’s platform.