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Polarization in the United States

By Lyudmila Aleksandrova

The current state of American politics is troubling to say the least. The past election placed a great strain on the American society as a whole. Good politics triggers discussion, debate and arguments, for the betterment of the nation, yet it is not meant to split the nation at its very core. Unfortunately, the past election peaked political polarization spreading it far beyond Washington DC. Today we witness the pinnacle of political polarization in the United States to date. The America we see today is split between the conservatives and the liberals, bearing significant repercussions for the future of American social paradigm.

In a research focusing on the partisan divide, carried out by Pew Research Center, we are presented with figures that demonstrate greater shifts towards partisanship on behalf of conservatives and the liberals. According to Pew Research center, “The gap between the political values of Democrats and Republicans is now larger than at any point in pew research center survey dating back to 1994, a continuation of a steep increase in the ideological divisions between the two parties over more than a decade.” [1] There is also a decline in the number of Americans who hold mixed liberal and conservative values. While in the past a considerable number of Americans would hold some conservative and some liberal views, now there are far less people looking to share a mixture of views, instead majority see themselves as consistently conservative or liberal. To provide a more concrete representation of the growing partisan divide here is the data provided by the Pew Research Center on some of the most pressing political issues.

The role of the government and the safety net it provides to the citizens, is an issue that has been up for debate for decades. While the conservatives always preferred less government and government aid, as opposed to the liberal Democrats, the partition in opinions was never as striking as it is today. According to Pew Research Center, 71% Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents believe that the government should be more involved in helping the needy and in providing government aid. This is a fairly considerable increase from only six years ago, when only 54% of Democrats shared this view. While the Republicans show a minuscule decline in favoring the government to do more for those in need, remaining at a low 24%.

On the question of foreign policy, partisan gap also increased. There was a considerable increase among Democrats supporting greater involvement in world affairs, with the percentage setting at 69% and with 27% advocated to divert attention from issues abroad, towards focusing on problems at home. [2] This view is reversed among the Republicans, 54% of whom believe that the less focus abroad is better, only 39% see merit in the United States remaining an active participant in global affairs.

Finally, the topics of race and immigration further polarize the public. Where, a report by Pew Research Center goes on to say, “64% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say that racial discrimination is the main reason why many black people can’t get ahead these days, compared with 28% who say blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition.” While most Republicans, “reject the idea that discrimination is the main reason why blacks can’t get ahead. 75% say that blacks who can’t get ahead in this country are mostly responsible for their own condition; just 14% say racial discrimination is the main reason why many blacks can’t get ahead.” When dealing with the question of immigration, “84% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say immigrants do more to strengthen than burden the country,” and only 42% of Republicans believe that immigrants do more to strengthen the country. [3]

According to the research, one of the primary reasons for the growing partisan gap, is a shift within the Democratic party, which became more liberal in some aspects. What is most unsettling about the figures demonstrated above, is the increasing animosity within American society they represent, which in-part was drastically heightened by the previous election cycle. Results show 81% of Democrats, “have an unfavorable opinion of the republican party,” with 44%, expressing a “very unfavorable view.” Similarly, 81 % of Republicans have an unfavorable view of the opposing party, with 45% expressing very unfavorable sentiments. Such sentiments are also widely applicable to the members of the opposing party, with both Republicans and Democrats rating each other “‘coldly’ on a 0–100 thermometer scale.”

Political affiliation not only outlines a person’s political views, but to a certain degree can define a person, by comprising a large part of one’s identity. Consequently, cross-party interaction became substantially more limited on a social level, where majority of people declare that their group of close friends and acquaintances is primarily comprise of individual aligning themselves with a similar political ideology. For a liberal Democrat, someone from the Republican party is a person who stands opposite to his beliefs and vice versa. Given the growing political gap, bipartisanship on any issue became more unattainable, as affiliates of both parties prefer to align themselves with their party’s ideology whether based on true sentiments or merely out of principle. Therefore, unless we can revert back to appropriate levels of bipartisanship, collaboration and acceptance, the future of American politics will be unfortunate to say the least.


[1] Pew Research Center, October, 2017, “The Partisan Divide on Political Values Grows Even Wider” pg.7

[2] Pew Research Center, October, 2017, “The Partisan Divide on Political Values Grows Even Wider” pg.22

[3] Pew Research Center, October, 2017, “The Partisan Divide on Political Values Grows Even Wider”pg.38


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