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A polarized America: How the partisan divide grew over decades, and why liberals and conservatives just can’t get along

By August 31, 2020No Comments

Evan McDonald //

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Anyone watching the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions over the past two weeks might conclude the two parties have only one thing in common: a mutual disdain for the other side.

Speakers at both conventions presented wildly different outlooks of the political landscape, but they offered the same core message. They argued that the opposing party represents an existential threat to the way of life in the United States of America, and a vote against that threat is the only way to stop it.

Election cycles put a spotlight on partisan divides, and polling numbers show President Donald Trump is a uniquely polarizing figure in the history of U.S. politics. But polls also indicate that polarization started to set in long before Trump’s ascendance. The animosity between Democrats and Republicans has been festering for decades, driven by a growing ideological divide between the parties and amplified by social media and cable TV news, experts say.

In 2020, a year defined by a global pandemic, a highly contentious election and nationwide protests over racial injustice, that divide has seemingly reached a crescendo.

“It goes beyond competition for power, and it goes beyond positions on public policy. It’s a really visceral dislike for one another,” said John C. Green, the director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron. “There’s always been some of that, but it’s become much more common.”

Experts say part of why people are so divided is because the two major parties have become more homogeneous, with citizens who identify as members of those parties sharing many of the same ideological values. They also tend to nominate candidates who are fervent in supporting the values that most appeal to the base rather than candidates who show a willingness to compromise.

But experts argue it goes deeper than that. Political messaging has permeated nearly every aspect of our lives, even if we don’t recognize it. Researchers have found that someone who posts a photo of a hunting trip on social media is assumed to be a Republican, whereas someone who posts a picture of a farmer’s market is assumed to be Democrat.