Editor’s note: This is the first in a series.
There is no doubt about it: Political polarization is the norm in D.C. and the states. A recent Pew Research Study, “Political Polarization in the American Public,” finds that political and ideological lines of division are not limited to the political elites but are embedded in the American public itself.
More and more are identifying with the extreme Left or the extreme Right. This division, according to Pew, leads to more negative results. These include a) more negative views of the opposing party, b) “rising tide of mutual antipathy,” c) personalization of politics; and d) less beneficial political compromise.
We are told that polarization is like the plague: Avoid it at all costs. There is nothing redeeming about split-voting, rancorous debate, mud-slinging on both sides, vitriolic accusations, slow to no movement on policy making, a divided Congress and Republicans versus Democrats. No good can possibly come about as a result.
Correct? Well, not so fast.
Lee Hamilton, former U.S. Representative from Indiana’s 9th District, wrote in November, 2010: “Let’s hope that congressional leaders listen to the American people as a whole, rather than simply play to their core constituencies, because the spiraling polarization they’re engaging in is clearly turning Americans off.”
Mr. Hamilton was reacting to the heated debate of the then mid-term campaign rhetoric; rhetoric that was so divisive and so negative that public opinion polls showed strong dislike on the part of the public toward the partisan bickering and wrangling.
But dial up a campaign. Stop and listen to Barack Obama lambast Republicans for obstructing policy progress, or hear Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lay into the Democrats for the umpteenth time, and polls show Americans responding best when the rhetoric is fiercest and most deeply dividing. The American populace may say they dislike polarization but their actions speak louder than their words.