Home Opinion OPINION: Who’s to blame for the partisan divide?

OPINION: Who’s to blame for the partisan divide?

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Opinion Writer Zach Richards, a sophomore studying education, argues that liberals and conservatives are both to blame for increased political polarization.

Please note that these views and opinions do not reflect those of The New Political.


It’s no secret that national politics in the United States is increasingly polarized. 

The stereotypical liberal perception of Republicans is that they’re racist, nationalistic and misogynist gun-lovers who care more about defending the president than the very concept of democracy. The stereotypical conservative perception of Democrats is that they’re a bunch of cry-baby, safe-space snowflakes who want the government to hand everything to them so they don’t have to work. But which side is more partisan? Which side ignores facts in order to push their own narrative?

A reasonable argument can be made that Republicans are the more partisan bunch. After all, we have a Republican president who lies constantly and pushes the boundaries of what is politically acceptable seemingly every day, as if to test the loyalty of his own party. 

So far, Republicans have stood by their president and largely defended even his most outrageous actions, while Democrats haven’t had a sitting president to defend in years. It’s easy for Democrats to look down their noses whenever Trump does something blatantly corrupt and ask “What if it was Obama doing this?” and swear they’d never defend a president who behaved this way.

The Democrats are the big-tent party, and there are simply more Democrats in party registration states than Republicans in the country. The downside is that it’s harder to unite the entire party, and Republicans can win national elections when Democratic turnout is down or if they’re able to peel off the wings of the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party has trouble trying to nominate a candidate who appeals to all their different constituents. The Democrats have to appeal to leftist socialists, suburban moms, union workers, black, Hispanic and Asian communities, Jews, the non-religious, Muslims, the LGBT community, urban progressives and college students, among others, all of which generally vote Democrat.

Democrats also tend to live in big cities far more than Republicans. Living in the most cosmopolitan places in the country exposes the median Democrat to a huge amount of diversity in their everyday life. Living in a city gives them more access to culture, art and the media than the median Republican, contributing to an open-minded worldview held by Democrats.

However, one could argue that having a bunch of different perspectives within the party help expose its members and its leadership to a variety of different viewpoints, making its members more open-minded. This also makes party infighting a problem that Democrats face more than Republicans, and it can cause the different wings of the party to focus more on their disdain of each other than on Republicans.

A point could be made that — because the median Democrat is more educated than the median Republican — the median Democrat might simply be aware of potentially dangerous effects of political polarization and be more likely to make a personal effort to avoid being blinded by partisanship. Even personal anecdotes seem to confirm this, as the most hardcore Republicans seem more devoted to President Donald Trump than hardcore Democrats ever were to Obama.

Compare this with the median Republican. The Republican Party is largely white, male and Christian. That’s not to say there aren’t different factions within the Republican Party, but it seems reasonable to expect that it’s easier for all these factions to unite because they’re demographically similar.

The median Republican is more likely than the median Democrat to live in a small town or rural area where almost everyone is demographically similar. These people are seemingly less likely to experience a diverse worldview beyond their own, so it would be reasonable to assume it’s easier for these people to unite in voting against a Democratic coalition that generally leads a lifestyle contrary to theirs. Even if the various Republican factions have different end goals, the threat of the left can generally be enough to unite them behind one candidate.

This seems to all lead to the same conclusion: That Republicans are the more partisan bunch, and they’ll defend Trump through way more than the Democrats would ever have defended Obama. 

Not so fast, however. A Democrat living in an urban congressional district where the incumbent Democrat representative won by 92 points might live in a cosmopolitan area and experience diversity as a major part of their life, but that wouldn’t make them less partisan against a Republican when 96% of their community’s electorate voted Democrat.

Just look at the Senate. There are nine Democrats representing states Trump won in 2016, versus only two Republicans from states won by Clinton. The most Democratic state with a Republican senator is Maine, which FiveThirtyEight gives a Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of D+5, meaning it’s five percentage points more Democratic than the nation as a whole. Alabama, Montana and West Virginia, which all have Democratic senators, have a PVI of R+27, R+18, and R+30, respectively.

Based on this, it’s reasonable to assume that Republicans are actually less partisan than Democrats as, even in a highly partisan atmosphere, they seem more likely to vote for Democrats than Democrats are to vote for Republicans.

Democrats could dismiss these arguments, and say the institutional advantage Republicans have in the Senate forces Democrats to run centrist candidates in order to have any chance at a majority. The most moderate Democrats are thus more likely to vote with Trump on issues than the most moderate Republicans are to vote against him.

A Democrat could thus argue that the party has more Senate seats in red states than Republicans have in blue states not because Republicans are less partisan, but rather because Democrats try to win in red states more than Republicans try in blue states.

It’s become somewhat of an internet joke to make fun of fence-sitters who simply proclaim that both sides are bad and add nothing to the discussion, but in this case, these people might have a point.

A 2016 study by the Pew Research Center found remarkably similar levels of animosity toward the other side between Democrats and Republicans.

According to the study, 47% of Democrats are angry at the Republican Party, and 46% of Republicans are angry at the Democratic Party. Over half of Republicans are frustrated with the other side of the aisle, with the number for Democrats being 58%. On a scale from zero to 100, with zero being the most negative feelings, Republicans gave Hillary Clinton a 12 and Democrats gave Trump an 11. Forty-two percent of Democrats say that Republicans are dishonest, compared to 45% of Republicans who say the same of Democrats.

When Republicans and Democrats talk to each other, 63% of Democrats say they have less in common with Republicans than they thought, with the number being 65% for Republicans. Overwhelmingly, 68% of Republicans say that Democratic policies being bad for the country is a major reason for why they’re a Republican, with that number being 62% for Democrats.

At the end of the day, the result of this is, after a highly polarizing presidential election in 2016, 89% of Democrats voted for Clinton and 88% of Republicans voted for Trump.

As annoying as a fence-sitter can be, partisanship is a both sides issue. That’s not to say that both sides are the same — they absolutely are not. Maybe Democrats wouldn’t tolerate a Democratic president who did everything Trump does now. Nonetheless, if the partisan divide is something worth addressing, both parties will have to make an effort to deal with it.

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