Why is the United States So Polarized?

Everyone knows the United States has a two-party system, where only the Democrats and Republicans have the capacity to win elections. Everyone also knows Democrats and Republicans hate each-other — like, really hate each-other.

Go onto just about any social media website and you’ll see name-calling, false accusations, and endless arguments over just about every issue there is — you’ll even see them attacking members of their own party for disagreeing with them on so much as a single issue.

According to the Pew Research Center: 93% of strong Democrats view the GOP unfavorably, and 96% of strong Republicans view the Democratic Party unfavorably.

So why is the United States so polarized? Why can’t Democrats and Republicans get along? There are a few reasons for that:

They Disagree on Almost Everything

Another poll by Pew shows that the Democratic Party has moved to the left, while the Republican Party has moved to the right.

“The “median,” or typical, Republican is now more conservative than 94% of Democrats, compared with 70% twenty years ago. And the median Democrat is more liberal than 92% of Republicans, up from 64%.”

Pew

This means the vast majority of partisans disagree on just about every issue there is. They can’t find any middle ground, because there isn’t any — and when you can’t find middle ground: that’s when you start to hate the “other.”

Most Independents Lean Towards a Party

Although 40% of Americans are Independents as of August 2021, outnumbering either party by more than ten points, most of them lean towards one party or the other.

According to Pew: 38% of Americans where Independents in May, 2019, but only 7% of Americans where true Independents — those who don’t lean towards either party. Nearly 80% of Independents have a partisan lean!

85% of Independents who lean Democrat view the GOP unfavorably, while 88% of Independents who lean Republican view the Democratic Party unfavorably — not much better than the strong partisans.

And that 7%? Pew says they aren’t even politically active.

“In a survey conducted shortly after the November 2018 midterm election, just a third of those who don’t lean toward either party (33%) reported voting.”

Pew

Primaries Push Out Moderates

Since most Republicans are conservative, and most Democrats are liberal: it’s nearly impossible for moderates to win a primary. This is because the largest faction can win with only a plurality of the vote.

It also doesn’t help that many states have closed primaries, meaning members of the other party — and even Independents — can’t vote in a party’s primary election.

Even if the primary is open: you can’t vote in both of them, meaning Democrats tend to choose the Democratic ballot, and Republicans tend to choose the Republican ballot.

This means that just about every elected Democrat is liberal, and just about every elected Republican is conservative.

Gerrymandering

Another reason elected politicians are so polarized is because most districts are gerrymandered — or purposefully drawn to help one party over the other.

An unintended side effect is that gerrymandered districts produce more extreme candidates than competitive ones, since one party is always going to win, and as I explained previously: the candidate that party nominates will usually be extreme.

Competitive districts, on the other hand, incentivize parties to nominate moderates so they can get enough votes from the other party to get across the finish line.

Human Nature

“Confirmation bias happens when a person gives more weight to evidence that confirms their beliefs and undervalues evidence that could disprove it.”

Iqra Noor, Simply Psychology

It’s human nature to dismiss evidence that contradicts your personal opinions — meaning that most people just inherit the political positions of their parents or friends and refuse to listen to what anyone else tells them.

Democrats refuse to listen to evidence that supports Republican positions, and Republicans refuse to listen to evidence that supports Democratic positions.

Ben Shapiro might be right that “facts don’t care about your feelings,” but your feelings don’t care about facts either.

Are We Doomed?

It might seem like polarization is so deeply rooted that curing it is impossible, but we can fix it!

It’s okay if Democrats and Republicans disagree on everything, so long as we have third parties to represent moderates and Syncretists.

Independents might not have to lean so much, if there were real alternatives. Of course, a lot of them would vote for even more extreme parties, but plenty of them would vote for moderate parties.

The 7% of Independents without a party lean would also be more politically active, having a slight moderating effect.

Primaries wouldn’t be as important in a multi-party system, but the voting method could be reformed to give moderates a boost.

Gerrymandering can be kept in check by utilizing independent commissions or proportional representation (like in Israel or the Netherlands).

Most politicians are incentivized to keep the system broken (otherwise they risk losing their job), but Alaska managed to pass ranked-choice voting through a ballot initiative! Change is possible, but only if we fight for it!

Confirmation bias can only be fought at the personal level, though. We all have to work hard to listen to what the other side is telling us, and to consider facts we might not like — only then will polarization truly be solved.

Click here to find out what would happen if the US had 12 parties, and which one you’re closest to!

View Sources

Carroll Doherty. “7 things to know about polarization in America”. Pew Research Center, 12 Jun. 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/06/12/7-things-to-know-about-polarization-in-america/. Accessed 2 Sep. 2021.

Gallup Editors. “Party Affiliation” Gallup, https://news.gallup.com/poll/15370/party-affiliation.aspx. Accessed 2 Sep. 2021.

Iqra Noor. “Confirmation Bias”. SimplyPsychology, 10 Jun. 2020, https://www.simplypsychology.org/confirmation-bias.html. Accessed 2 Sep. 2021.

Pew Research Center. “Views of the Democratic and Republican parties”. Pew Research Center, 11 Mar. 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2021/03/11/views-of-the-democratic-and-republican-parties/. Accessed 2 Sep. 2021.


Share