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.
This distinct divide 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.
There is a strong relationship between ideological consistency and political engagement. 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. Political engagement is the extent to which citizens take part in the political system. Examples of political engagement include voting, attending political campaigns, contacting elected officials, attending protests, signing petitions, or donating to a political candidate. Political participation is vital to the healthy functioning of a democracy.
The diversity of opinions is not an issue because a myriad of political ideologies contributes to society. However, the issue with political polarization in American politics is the underrepresentation of moderate views and the overrepresentation of polarized views. 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 political views. Ideological silos are common on both ends of the political scale. People with down-the-line ideological positions are more likely to have close friends who share their political views. Most people believe that interacting with exclusively people in their own party causes less conflict.
Liberals and conservatives have drastically different lifestyle choices, which deepens their divide. Interaction among conservatives and liberals is reduced due to these 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. Ideological silos tend to reinforce echo chambers. Liberals and conservatives choose to associate themselves with people who hold their own political values as a way of reducing conflict.
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."