A dramatic polarizing shift has occurred in our political parties over the last ten years. For example, in 2012 Mitt Romney was the Republican presidential candidate, essentially the face of the party. Now, just eight years later, he is heavily criticized by that same party, particularly when he voted by conscience and oath in the impeachment trial instead of by party lines . Polarization has pushed him from the man of the party to the man without a party. So, what changed in this short amount of time?
A winner-takes-all and two-party system are part of it, but they are only components of a more complex issue. In earlier years, the Republican and Democratic parties were able to compromise and sought moderate candidates for presidential nominations. A significant cause of political polarization in America comes from the complexity of current issues. The complexity of our time comes naturally with globalization and the advancement of technology. Countries interact like never before because of the internet and the improvement in transportation of people and goods, creating interdependence in global economies. With larger, dependent markets come the challenges of intellectual property theft, cultural differences, allowance or frustration of trade by governments. This expands even to the technology on our own soil, as it has become controversial in the discussion of government infringement of privacy.
Even on a militaristic level, we are facing more complicated challenges than before. Countries like Iran and North Korea continue to make strides in nuclear capabilities. International terrorism, with internet recruiting, is also difficult to contain. Complex issues equate to complex solutions. Political parties are simply groups representing solutions to problems, and so, as the solutions become more extreme, so do they.
Such complexity makes it difficult for the average citizen to understand the situation, creating a greater citizen dependency on media to cohesively summarize what is going on. However, the media itself has become increasingly biased and presents news to support a particular preference or political party. Because the issues are complex, the media can easily manipulate people who do not do proper research. Media characters scream about the faults of those on the opposite side; this polarizes and emotionally charges people listening to them speak on topics they know very little about. People have invested more into their bias of choice than seeking an unbiased perspective. The media is ultimately a business; if people only want unbiased news, the media will have to shift to produce unbiased news to meet the people’s preferences.
Polarization has led to the rise of less moderate leaders, like Trump. We see this today with Bernie Sanders in the Democrat primary election. The Democratic party is in a delicate position. In the last election, Bernie ran as a third party member and took votes away from Clinton, helping Trump take the presidency. The 2020 primary elections end in June. As I write this, Bernie Sanders leads the Democratic primary race  (by the time you read this, the polls may have changed). If Bernie loses the Democratic primary race, his base may not vote in the election, and Trump could win again. This potential outcome pressures Democrats to make Sanders the nominee. On the other hand, if Sanders is the presidential nominee, he will most likely turn away many moderates from the party. Americans have historically been fearful of socialist ideologies, especially older generations. If put to a vote between Trump and Sanders, moderates may favor Trump between the two extremes because Trump is a known risk whereas Sanders would be an unknown risk. People will typically choose known over the unknown risk,  and with the lack of successful legislation from Sanders, vague campaign promises, and stark socialist preference, Sanders is a big unknown for moderates. Whether Sanders does or does not win the nomination, the Democratic party will face a challenge for the presidential race.
If we want long-lasting resolutions to the complex issues we face today, our country will need to adopt the exact opposite of political polarity. The United States’ political system is designed to function on cross-party compromises. When extreme and polarized opinions are present, these compromises cannot exist, and necessary solutions cannot be reached.
Ultimately, it is the people who decide what America’s future looks like. American citizens must educate themselves on sociopolitical issues with unbiased media and have open conversations in order to solve the complex problems they face. If they do not do so and continue to elect polarizing leaders who do not listen to those on both sides of the aisle, I am moving to Norway.
Hofmann, Klaus P., ed. Psychology of decision making in economics, business and finance. Nova Publishers, 2007.
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