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The Milton Measure

The Negative Effects of Polarization of the United States

by Star Hu on Friday, June 9th, 2017

A 2014 Pew Research Center Study concluded that the United States is becoming more polarized and that Republicans and Democrats are the most ideologically divided they have been in two decades. The 2016 election brought attention to a deeply divided and polarized nation, but Trump did not begin the polarization. Rather, he is evidence of an increasingly polarized political climate. Today, political polarization is one of the defining features of American politics, and it may indicate that the Republican-majority Congress will not use many of its checks and balances against the Trump administration.

The Pew Study showed that not only did the number of Americans who express consistently liberal or consistently conservative beliefs double over the past two decades, the most politically polarized (i.e. leaning heavily left or right) are significantly more active in every stage of the political process: voting, writing letters to politicians, or donating to and volunteering for a campaign. Thus, politicians who lean more heavily to the right or left are more likely to win elections due to the greater support they can rely on from the public, and polarized voices are amplified in this climate.

As a result, the center has shrunk (according to the Pew Research Study, centrists have decreased from 49% of Americans in around 2000 to 39% now). As a result, the number of centrist politicians, who historically have been important in bridging extremes and ensuring bipartisan cooperation, has dropped. Moreover, the study shows that hard conservatives and liberals see the ideal political compromise as getting more of what they want and conceding less to the opposing party. In fact, to 27% of Democrats, Republican policies pose a threat to the well-being of the country, and more than a third (36%) of Republicans think this way about Democratic policies.

Polarization, specifically the rise of mutual antipathy and shrinking of the center, will negatively affect the legislation passed by Congress by impairing politicians’ ability and willingness to compromise and negotiate. In a diverse, heterogeneous society such as the United States, bipartisan cooperation is necessary to appease all groups — not just groups that happen to make the majority in Congress at the moment. The Pew Study also stated that more than 20 years ago, 23% of Republicans were more liberal than the median Democrat, and 17% of Democrats were more conservative than the median Republican; today, the numbers are 4% and 5%. The diminished ideological overlap between the two parties shows that ideological thinking is more aligned with partisanship than before. Consequently, members of Congress today are tremendously more likely to vote with their party.

Both Democrats and Republicans have been willing to bypass Senate rules to confirm their nominees in the face of staunch opposition from the other party. In the Senate, filibusters are obstructive tactics used to delay the voting of a bill by limitless debate. Cloture, which requires 60, or three-fifths, of the votes, must be invoked to bypass filibuster. Hence, passing bills in the Senate usually requires more time and bipartisan cooperation. In 2013, Democrats used the nuclear option to confirm cabinet nominees whom the Republicans were filibustering. The nuclear option allows one to override a rule or precedent by a simple majority of 51 votes. In 2017, to end the entirely Democrat filibuster and confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Senate Republicans also used the nuclear option to confirm a Supreme Court Justice.

With such polarization, the majority parties have shown an increasing willingness to take advantage of its majority and simply override the minority party through use of extreme measures like the nuclear option instead of turning to negotiation to reach a mutually beneficial solution. Using nuclear options to bypass filibuster has established a potentially dangerous precedent, since it would threaten the ability of the filibuster to continue creating a need for bipartisan cooperation in the Senate.

Furthermore, polarization can reduce legislative productivity, causing a greater number of political impasses where no compromise is reached. In fact, according to a study, Congress produced 166% more legislation in the least-polarized congressional term than in the most-polarized term. Thus, government response to long-term, controversial issues will be slow, to the detriment of all Americans, due to the current hyperpolarized nature of American politics.

In this hyper-polarized political landscape, there no longer exists incentive to cooperate with the other party. Those who find their voices ignored by the Trump administration must continue to not only cry out, but also initiate compromise. If the Republican party do not take the first step, liberals and Democrats need to be the ones who are holding our president accountable for his actions while simultaneously paving the way for cooperation.

Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=9288

Posted by Star Hu on Jun 9 2017. Filed under More Opinion, Opinion, Recent Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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