With the 2020 presidential election quickly approaching, the divide among Democrats and Republicans continues to grow rapidly. The tension among the parties has lasted as long as our nation itself, but in recent years, the parties are moving towards opposite ends.
The distinct division of the parties goes beyond disagreement of political views. Each party has a large percentage of individuals who hold highly negative views towards the opposing party. These percentages have more than doubled within a decade. 27% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans view the opposite party as a threat to the nation's well being.
Over the years, the ideological overlap between the two parties has diminished. Bi-partisan collaboration between Democrats and Republicans is dramatically decreasing in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Neither party can shoulder the blame, because American politics have grown more polarized under both a Democrat and Republican-controlled Congresses.
According to Zachary Neal, associate professor of psychology and global urban studies at Michigan State University, "Centrists often do not appeal to American voters, who are increasingly polarized." This creates a cycle, in which polarized voters elect ideologically polarized candidates, which creates politically polarized policies.
Political polarization is often a result of ideological silos, which are areas in which people are isolating themselves from others who hold differing views. Liberals and conservatives choose to associate themselves with people who hold their political values as a way of reducing conflict. Interaction among people of different parties is further reduced due to drastic differences in lifestyle choices. For example, liberals are more likely to live in the city, and conservatives and more likely to live in suburban or rural areas. These lifestyle choices cause liberals and conservatives to surround themselves exclusively with like-minded people, which reinforces echo chambers.
There is a positive correlation between an individual's likelihood of answering political polls, and how strongly they support their political party. The statistical phenomenon called volunteer response bias, which is the over representation of people with strong opinions in a voluntary response sample, can explain why surveys and polls are polarized. For example, if a radio was holding an interview, where listeners can call in and express their political opinions regarding certain issues such as abortion, gun control, or immigration, people with strong ideological political beliefs are more likely to call in and answer the interview questions. People with moderate or no political affiliation are less likely to take the time out of their day to call in and express their views. Over representation of polarized political views, causes moderate/centrist viewpoints to be overlooked.
There is a strong relationship between ideological consistency and political engagement. Political engagement is the extent to which citizens take part in the political system, and it is vital to the healthy functioning of a democracy. Examples include voting, attending political campaigns, contacting elected officials, attending protests, signing petitions, or donating to a political candidate. According to the Pew Research Center, political engagement and activism is higher at the ideological extremes and lower in the center, creating a U-shaped distribution. Consistent conservatives and consistent liberals demonstrate higher levels of political engagement than centrists/moderates.
The distinct divide among the Democrats and Republicans is reflected through the large percentages of individuals from each party who hold highly unfavorable views of the opposing party as well as the decline of bi-partisan relationships and collaboration in the House of Representatives and Senate. This sharp partition is caused by a cycle in which individuals with strong ideological opinions are over represented, and those with moderate opinions are overlooked. Factors including echo chambers, reactive devaluation, tribalism, volunteer response bias, and social media algorithms strengthen political polarization in American politics.
George Washington once said, ""However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion."