Political polarization encourages people to become educated and engaged

Julia Nicholson, page editor

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More than ever before, Americans are blaming their dissatisfaction with the current government on the increasing political polarization. In reality, political polarization has shown to contribute to a rise in voter turnout, which leads to a more representative government and satisfied populous.

At its core, political polarization is the division of citizens by their opposing political beliefs. With the extent of radical ideas being passed around in our government today and the amount of divisive social issues represented on the ballot, it’s inevitable that the populous is divided.

A study conducted by Pew Research Center within the last year found that 95% of Republicans are consistently more conservative than the median Democrat, and 97% of Democrats are consistently more liberal than the median Republican. These numbers are up nearly 30% from 2004, providing clear evidence that our polarized nation is only becoming more polarized.

On the flip side, a similar study done by the same organization analyzed the political values of only the Americans that are politically engaged and the results leaned more liberal for both parties than they had in the study done on the broader populous.

Fortunately, the difference in political stance between the general public and the engaged public is decreasing as polarization trends increase, because more Americans are participating in politics by voting.

Take the 2018 midterm election which raked in 113 million voters—or 49% of the eligible voters in America. According to CBS News, 49% is the highest percentage of eligible voters to go to the polls since 1966, and before that, 1914. In fact, the last midterm in 2014 reported only a 36.4%  voter turnout.

When politics become as heated as they are in the current American political environment, those who are involved put a lot of pressure on those who aren’t to become educated and get out and vote. Without the persuasion from extreme partisan voters, these people would otherwise remain uninvested in politics. If it is the only thing that pushes people to get involved in politics who wouldn’t otherwise, then polarization is something to work with and not turn away from.

Currently, with only half of our country staying involved and voting, America is being represented poorly. Consistently, the same demographic of Americans is showing up to the polls while the same groups are ignoring them. As shown in the statistics gathered by Pew, there is a considerable difference in the beliefs and values between Americans and Americans who vote. However, if the recent midterm election is any sign of how our government will evolve in the coming years, then America will become increasingly more representative of the people, and more voices will be heard.

At the end of the day, a nation of polarized people is a nation of engaged people. We can’t form a cohesive nation if we don’t have everyone’s voices being heard, and opinions being represented first. Only after mobilizing voters can we start to work towards true cooperation and compromise.

A common complaint and consequence of polarization in government is the presence of gridlock, which typically occurs when Congress is split between two parties, and leads to few laws getting passed. However, putting a hold on the nation is not an entirely negative thing. For example, when the nation settles down, Americans are able to focus on and improve their own economic status without the extreme fluctuation of the economy to distract and hinder them.

In addition, when there is a balance at the national level, both parties are being represented and neither party can control the government against the extreme complaints of the other. Although nothing is getting passed that can improve the nation, no damage is being done to the nation either.

Whether we like it or not, our country has not strayed far enough from the tendencies of the past for polarization to be wiped away. For now, we have to embrace polarization for its mobilization of voters, and wait for the day that enough people are involved in democracy for polarization to change and for the country to be united.

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