Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Growing Political Party Identification Divide

As was examined earlier in a four-part series (one, two, three, and four) the body politic of the United States is sifting itself into two primary identities -- identities that really transcend one's identity as Americans. I suppose, effectively, these are ironically post-nationalist identities.

Two social researchers, Shanto Iyengar of Stanford University and Sean J. Westwood of Princeton University, published an article in the American Journal of Political Science titled "Fear and Loathing across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization" (link). Here they examined the growing division among Americans along lines according to political party identification. This division even trumps the racial divide, especially among white voters.

It's a fairly long though easy read and quite compelling. For those of you who do not want to take the time to read it, here's what I've gleamed from it:
  • Americans may not speak their deepest feelings when discussing race issues, but they will do so in regards to political ones. In other words, Americans may not be honest in their discussions about race, but they are frank and honest in sharing their dislike of and alienation with members of the opposing political party.
  • Today, the definition of what it means to be a Democrat is to not be a Republican, and vice versa. And this identification is not political (!), but rather affective -- meaning that it is not determined intellectually but by feelings. It is a social identity.
  • This increasing partisanship among voters is reflected in the political process. There is a growing tendency to "bash" one's political opponents in Congress and in the state legislatures  (the opposing political party representatives) rather than cooperate. Cooperation is viewed as appeasement and might threaten a politician's ability to be re-elected. 
  • Lastly, this sense of political identification has become so entrenched that it contributes to how an American views him or herself. The authors state that in the 1950s political identity was relatively weak, but today it is significantly different: "Today, the sense of partisan identification is all encompassing and affects behavior in both political and nonpolitical contexts."
The question that remains to be answered is if these paradigmatic differences are fissure points. I do not think that they are in and of themselves, but they do serve as the basis for personal identification in an in-group vs. out-group context.This is not good, as the last time I can think of where such a similar difference existed was right before the Civil War.

If anything, these differences demonstrate a sense of post-nationalism, as neither extreme party position allows for the continuance of a status quo "let's just simply agree to disagree." Now it's "go to hell.",204,203,200_.jpg

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Emphatic language can be couched in kind words. Let's all be adults here and use our words constructively.