POLITICAL POLARIZATION


Photo by Kyle Crawford


For the past two years, campaigning politicians have accosted TV while news outlets have attempted to spit out opinion polls faster than their competition. Each side of the political spectrum is doing anything and everything they can to win the November 2016 presidential election, and it seems that as soon as one side is in office, the opposition begins campaigning for the next election cycle. However, while the majority of the public has no problem identifying frontrunners in the election, many people do not know what specific issues the candidates stand for.

The past 20 years in particular have witnessed a significant increase in polarization among candidates. AP Government teacher Joe Stuelpe said, “In the parties that are elected, the people that are in government, they’ve gotten more partisan. Liberals have moved farther left; conservatives have moved farther right. Both have become increasingly resistant to compromise.”

According to a 2014 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 94 percent of Democrats are more liberal than Republicans and 92 percent of Republicans are more conservative than Democrats, meaning that the two groups are moving farther away from each other. This shift in thinking may account for the doubling of party animosity in the last two decades.

Stuelpe said the increase in partisanship has affected voting. “The past couple of election cycles (partisanship) turned people off; it’s a reason being cited for the low voter turnout,” he said.

The United States has had a much lower voter turnout than other democratic countries around the world. A 2015 Pew Research Center data collection found that the United States ranked 31st in voter turnout out of the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In the past, the government has tried to address this issue with various forms of legislation. In 1993, the Motor Voter Act was enacted in order to increase voter turnout by allowing people to register when they received their driver’s license. This did work to increase the amount of voters registered. However, voter turnout decreased because those new voters who were eligible, did not vote. The age group that has the lowest voter turnout rate is 18 to 24-year-olds.

Senior Eric McLain said he will vote but he understands why others would choose not to.

“Well, the reasons to vote are pretty small now since there are 330 million (people) in the country, and we have the Electoral College, but I’ll vote I guess to make my tiny voice heard,” McLain said.

Senior Grace Miller, who does not identify with either party, said she believes the problem is that 18 to 24-year-olds do not educate themselves on the issues. Like McLain, she intends to vote in the November presidential election.

“Yes, we receive a great education in our schools that prepare us to become fruitful members of society, but we may not take the time to research specific candidates and/or issues that would give us the ability to vote with a solid foundation of background knowledge and well-formed opinion,” Miller said via email.


“You’re seeing so many interest groups and so many groups popping up on social media to advocate for ideas because they don’t feel like the parties are representing their ideas.”

– Teacher Jim Stuelpe


Stuelpe said that the complexity of elections also lowers voter turnout. Because there are so many issues and so many politicians, people feel overwhelmed so they do not educate themselves enough to participate.

Another possible cause of this low voter turnout is that while politicians are becoming more partisan, the majority of Americans are moderates.

Stuelpe said,“You’re seeing so many interest groups and so many groups popping up on social media to advocate for ideas because they don’t feel like the parties are representing their ideas.”

McLain follows this trend, as he said he is a conservative, but he does not align himself with the Republican Party.

“I think that (the Republican Party is) too similar to the Democratic Party and they need to stand by their principles,” McLain said.

The question remains: if the public is moderate, why are elected officials partisan? The answer stems back to low voter turnout. The people that vote are significantly more partisan than the average citizen, especially in the primaries and caucuses, according to Stuelpe.

Stuelpe said, “It’s why you’re seeing (Donald) Trump and (Ben) Carson and (Carly) Fiorina especially being so successful; people are tired of all the pissing and moaning and negative stuff and seeking alternatives.”

While Miller said she does respect both parties, animosity between them hinders the government.

“As a citizen of the United States, I believe that I not only have a right but a responsibility to work together with others, regardless of background.

“However, what concerns me is that parties are often more focused on being right and winning arguments than they are with trying to find common ground with each other that would cultivate compromise,” Miller said.

Because politicians have to cater to the extremes in order to be elected, the government will continue to become increasingly polarized unless something can be done about low voter turnout. However, changes do not appear to be forthcoming anytime soon.

Stuelpe said, “The people that are going to vote are polarized; the moderates don’t vote in the primaries or in the caucuses depending on which the state has. You’ve got to suck up to the hardcore people to have a chance to win the job.”


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Annika Wolff

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