During the 2020-21 school year, as part of American University’s School of Public Affairs Leadership Program, I completed a social action project regarding political polarization. In setting out to complete this project, I conducted a survey, and posted my results to the following website. Below is a short description of the project, and my motivations for conducting it.
Politics in America has always been divided. From the Federalists and Anti-Federalists of the 1700s to the Democrats and Republicans of today, American politics has always been divided. For all of recent history, Americans have had only two real choices when it comes to voting for political affairs. Having only two major parties forces Americans to take sides, and in many cases compromise certain political views they have in order to conform with the rest of their party. This creates a black and white opinion on every issue, with no space in between for differing views. While this might be the most efficient way to rally the country behind certain pieces of legislation, it does not create an accurate image of the political makeup of the country. While the United States may be roughly half Democrat and half Republican, the true distribution of political views in the country is not simply one or the other.
In recent years, and particularly following the 2016 election, the nation saw a major increase in the level of civic participation within general society. Voter turnout and political participation are at record high levels, however these positive results have only come as a side effect of increasing political divisiveness. The country today is likely more polarized than it has ever been in modern times, which has led to tension in nearly every aspect of life for many people. Differences in politics are no longer simply disagreements, but issues which can cross social boundaries, and create lasting divisions.
Drastic political polarization, such as what can be observed today, leads to a variety of negative effects. Misinformation, partisan motivated reasoning, and the suppression of third parties only scratches the surface of what polarization can do to society. Polarization is also in a way a feedback loop, as it creates an environment in which individuals naturally oppose each other, and therefore continue to drive themselves to a higher level of polarization.
In setting out to conduct this project, I wanted to show that the American public is not truly as ideologically polarized as we are led to believe. The media nowadays is explicitly partisan when discussing any political matters, and the rhetoric espoused by all outlets simply serves to further public division. While it is obvious that the American public is ideologically divided to a certain extent, it is unclear how much of that division is real, and how much is simply individuals’ blind allegiance to their specific party. In completing this project, I found that while the country is divided, and certain issues do have diametrically opposed viewpoints, there are other issues upon which more agreement can be found. While we may be divided as a country, there seem to still be certain issues we can agree on.