by Anna Augart-Welwood
January 27, 2021
There is no doubt that the United States is a divided country, and with each day, the divide grows larger. Political polarization is a prominent issue in America, and recent events such as the storming of the Capitol building on January 6 induce a feeling that the country is beyond repair. But President Joe Biden has provided many Americans with a new hope that America can be healed.
The political divide in America began to widen during the 1990s. In 1994, the average Republican was more conservative than 70% of Democrats; by 2014, this number increased to 94%. The average Democrat went from more liberal than 64% of Republicans to more liberal than 92% of Republicans in the same time frame. Extreme partisans have false perceptions of members of the other party. According to a study by the More in Common Foundation, Republicans believe that only half of Democrats are proud to be American, and Democrats believe that only half of Republicans recognize that racism still exists in America. In actuality, 80% of Republicans acknowledge the existence of racism in America, and 80% of Democrats say they are proud to be American. According to a study from 2019, 42% of voters of both parties view the other as “downright evil.” The same study discovered that approximately one in five Americans believe that their political opponents “lack the traits to be considered fully human — they behave like animals.” Perhaps the most disturbing discovery of this study is that 20% of Democrats and 16% of Republicans think occasionally that the country would be better off if large numbers of the other party died. From these findings, there is no question that political polarization is tearing the country in half.
There are several explanations for the expanding divide in political views. A study by Carlee Beth Hawkins and Brian Nosek found that labeling policies as Democratic or Republican can influence support from the members of each party. Social media also plays a prominent role in political polarization. Social media algorithms are designed to show users content similar to content that they have previously “liked.” For example, if someone interacts with Democratic content on social media, they will be shown more Democratic content. This prevents social media users from seeing the perspective of the opposite party, increasing polarization. Additionally, news outlets have become increasingly partisan, and most people get information from outlets with the same views as themselves. And the political divide has widened during Donald Trump’s presidency because of his insensitivity towards Democratic customs. Trump consistently demonizes the Democratic Party, driving his supporters to view the Democrats as evil. Agreeing with this statement, Aster Gamarnik ‘23 says that “people no longer think about what’s best for the country, but [rather] blatantly accuse the other party, fill their ego on bigotry, and follow conspiracies that are fueled by this rage.” Aster believes that people are losing hope in America because “Americans no longer understand what this country stands for.”
While political polarization may seem to be past the point of no return, there is still hope. A study by the More in Common Foundation discovered that over three-fourths of Americans support both stricter gun laws and citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to America as children. Approximately the same amount of Americans agree that both parties can still come together despite their differences. Another glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel is Joe Biden’s presidency. Unlike Donald Trump, who has divided the country, Biden promotes a future of unity and bipartisanship. In his victory speech on November 7, he said, “I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide but unify, who doesn’t see red states and blue states, only sees the United States…I ran as a proud Democrat. I will now be an American president. I will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me as [for] those who did.” Showing compassion for Trump’s upset supporters, he said, “Let’s give each other a chance.” Biden went on to ask that the “grim era of demonization in America” end now. In his inauguration speech on January 20, President Biden stated his belief that unity can lead the country to greatness. He said, “I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real, but I also know they are not new… unity is the path forward.” In the final sentences of his speech, the newly inaugurated president left listeners with a feeling of optimism, saying, “And together we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness. A story of decency and dignity, love and healing, greatness and goodness.”
With this new hope in mind, we must take action to heal America’s political divide. A possible solution would be to establish an organization or service that allows people to have respectful and educational conversations with others who have different political views. This would allow partisans to see things from the perspective of the other party and possibly adopt less extreme views. More citizens’ assemblies could be held in which different groups discuss political and social issues, highlighting common ground that can be acted upon. Another possible solution would be to vote for policies, not parties. As previously mentioned, voters are more likely to support a policy put forth by their own party. But if policies were independent from parties, voters would be encouraged to support the policies that they believe in, which may not exactly agree with the ones that their party puts forth. Finally, research shows that people who have extreme views about certain political policies often don’t fully understand them. When asked to give an in-depth explanation of certain policies, extremists realized how little they understood of them and adopted less extreme views. Fully educating voters on policies can also help diminish the polarization.
There is no doubt that political polarization in America is worse than ever before. Some might even say that we are past the point of no return. Yet we don’t have any other choice but to try to fix this destructive issue; our democracy would be shattered otherwise. Keep in mind that there is still hope. After all, it’s not called the United States for nothing.
Avlon, John. “Polarization is poisoning America. Here’s an antidote.” CNN, November 1, 2019.
Blake, Aaron and Scott, Eugene. “Joe Biden’s inauguration speech transcript, annotated.” The Washington Post, January 20, 2020.
De-Wit, Lee, Van Der Linden, Sander, and Brick, Cameron. “What Are the Solutions to Political Polarization?” Greater Good Magazine, July 2, 2019.
Edsall, Thomas B. “No Hate Left Behind.” The New York Times, March 13, 2019.
“Extreme Political Attitudes May Stem From an Illusion of Understanding.” Association for Psychological Science, April 29, 2013.
“Transcript of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory speech.” The Associated Press, November 7, 2020.