From 2006-2008, I studied political polarization in great detail at the University of Pennsylvania. My final research project can be found online here. The initial interest in my studies came from an internship at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
Since 2008, I have viewed the political world through the prism of polarization. Even if you skim my thesis (as it is long), the basic premise is as follows (and this is a drastic oversimplification): a) polarization is not new, b) there is a clear argument that polarization has been worse at other times in our nation's history, such as during the Civil War, but also c) polarization today is still bad and is growing worse.
In my research, I break down polarization among subcategories: the political elite (the politicians, members of the media and the most politically active), the electorate (the voters) and the American public at-large. In doing so, I note that many political scientists I have studied have made one thing clear: polarization among political elites exists at stronger levels than it does among any of the other two groups.
But my fear now is that polarization is growing and deepening among both the electorate and the American public and I think it is due to a trickle-down effect.
Let's examine some voting patterns from Election Day 2010:
1. According to a recent ABC News article, "...the Blue Dog coalition was decimated on Tuesday; more than half of its members, 29, lost. Only 28 remain. For the most part, the Democrats who survived Tuesday are the more liberal members, including Pelosi's strongest supporters."
2. On the Republican side, not all of Palin's Tea Partyists were victorious. But some were. Rand Paul, for example, is now planning on trying to start a Tea Party Caucus in the Senate. According to a recent article from NBC News, 50% of the Senate Tea Party candidates won, and a total of 32% won overall. In naming this percentage, the article states: "just 32%." But for a fairly new party within a party -- a coalition that by most standards represents extreme conservative values over moderate ones --32% is no minimal figure.
I fear that we are bound for a political explosion. If there was a lack of bipartisan dialogue before, my concern is that there is likely to be even less of one now.
True, there is now two-party leadership on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, consisting of from the White House to the House. But there are also so many competing factors, (factions, precisely) to be managed. And one Founding Father wouldn't be disappointed about this: James Madison. He envisioned a country with many competing factions (groups).
If you want to read an interesting political science document, I would suggest reading "Toward a More Responsible Two Party System," written by members of the American Political Science Association (APSA) (The Committee on Political Parties), who compiled a 1950 report discussing the weakness of our two-party system in the United States at that time. At this time, I simply cannot envision any plausible circumstances in which our country would function under any system other than a two-party system; fractionalization is our temporary alternative. However, in the meantime, Madison is probably smiling down on all of us: His vision of many factions may seemingly be coming to light.
Yet, while I believe fractionalization will temporarily divide us, and competing factions will temporarily hurt us, I also think that there will be a point of political explosion. Of course not a literal explosion, but something politically will occur where a maxim will be reached and then the voters will realize the absurdity of our recent delusional voting patterns. The answers simply cannot be found in the political extremes. The answers must be found in the middle. One side will tip the balance, the scale will tilt and the damage to that side will be irreversible. The other side will find the winning balance and we, as an entire system will be back on track. And let's be frank, while both sides are soul searching now, I think the Republicans are in much more dire need of finding themselves then the Democrats. Thus, if one side is bound to tip the scale right now -- we should really be looking at the Republicans.
A victory in 2008 for President Obama did not mean a victory in 2010 for Democrats. A victory in 2010 for Republicans does not necessarily mean a victory in 2012 for them. I cannot say for certain that the Republicans are the party bound for an explosion. But I can say that right now both sides are in trouble. And, more than likely, a solution for both parties will eventually be found.
Politics is like a pendulum. The pendulum swings. No matter what, I feel blessed to live in this country. Because no matter where u stand, one can watch and stand proud, as we can know that the pendulum swings freely.
Please feel free to comment below my article but I also encourage sound discussion on my website. I have created a political forum as a sounding board for those to help me formulate my future blog posts and to comment on my recent postings. Please join the forum. I look forward to your feedback. Thank you.