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Polarized by Politics? YOU Can Prevent Partisanship

by Abby Thompson
October 28, 2016 | Our Future
prevent partisanship pbs rewire

This election cycle has been one of the strangest in U.S. history. If we look at both major parties separately, it’s been weird. In this corner, we’ve got the Democrats. The first woman to be named a major party nominee, but still manages to make headlines for people questioning her. One word: emails.

And in this corner, we’ve got the Republicans—kind of. At this point in the game, Republicans disavowing the presidential candidate are praised more than mocked. But we have to give Donald Trump credit where credit is due. In this election, he has embodied that classic underdog story we all love so much. He was trashed by the media, hung out to dry by the party he was supporting, but by the power of the people (and his huge amounts of money) he still kept winning. But why? What makes people so attracted to him as a political candidate? Simply, it’s because he’s not a politician. This country is sick of the partisanship that divides and excludes people from the process.

What is this partisanship thing?

Partisanship is the division of our political parties, it’s the fact that Democrats and Republicans have different identities and agendas for how the U.S. should develop and prosper. For a long time, this wasn’t a big deal, but as these parties have evolved they’ve adopted issues as part of their identities that divide people on more than just economic theory. Today's issues surround how people in the U.S. live their lives.

Take this example from history. Abraham Lincoln was the first president of the Republican Party and he freed the slaves. Yet, today, when we think of the standard Republican, taking up issues of race and minority groups doesn't spring to mind. Same with Democrats and the issue of God. We don't associate the Bible Belt with the Democratic party as much as the country's urban areas.

Today's partisanship now goes as far as impacting and dictating lifestyle, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center. The study found a correlation between political party affiliation, house size and community. The research showed that about 75 percent of Democrats surveyed preferred to live in a smaller house with ability to walk to local businesses, while about 75 percent of Republicans said they’d prefer to have a bigger house that was more distant out from others.

prevent partisanship pbs rewire

But what about the other 25 percent of each sample? These are the ones who believe in their party, yet maybe don’t fall into the stereotype lifestyle based on their political leanings. Partisanship fails them, and they likely become isolated from their parties because their politicians are looking at the other 75 percent, not them. Most of these people have mixed feelings on politics and are less likely to be engaged in the political process.

Okay, so, we get that partisanship kind of stinks: it limits politicians' range of issues they can act on/publicly care about and isolates people from the political process. But the question that really matters is: How does partisanship impact "We the people?"

No matter what party you affiliate with or lean towards, the more separate our parties become, the more challenging it is to find common ground with our neighbors and peers who have different political ideologies. A Pew Research Center study found that 40 percent of a sample of Republicans said it would be hard to get to know someone if that person identified as a liberal. The Democrats in the study felt similarly—30 percent of them thought it would be harder to get to know someone if that person were conservative.

Partisanship was originally formed as a way to organize ideologies, but has become a way to focus on the differences that divide us. Instead, we should recognize the similarities that bring people together. Luckily, there is plenty to be done in creating an accepting community that stretches across the aisle and encompasses people of all beliefs.

3 ways to make partisanship disappear

1. Listen and learn. The best way to understand people different from you is to listen. Often, you just need to see where someone is coming from and take a little hike in their shoes to start to understand them and their beliefs. An easy way to do this is by watching "Postcards from the Great Divide," a docu-series focusing on local partisanship in the United States.

2. Show up and lobby. If we want to see real change in our country, we need politicians from both sides of the spectrum to work together. By showing up at your state capitol and talking to legislators who are committed to their party’s stance on an issue, but you want them to see it another way, you're taking important political cross-pollination into your own hands. Politicians are just people and likely are committed to making the city, state, or country a better place for all of us.

prevent partisanship pbs rewire

3. VOTE. Working to elect candidates who are committed to representing all people, not just the ones who are members of their party, is key to bringing partisanship to an end in our country. Even if you don’t like the presidential candidates this year, voting is important. Trump and Clinton aren't the only ones who will appear on your ballot. Your local and state elections will impact you directly every day, and you'll be asked to cast a ballot for those candidates as well. On the national scale, electing a president this year will also determine who will appoint a U.S. Supreme Court justice, a person who will be partially responsible for the most important social issues facing our country, such as gun-control, reproductive rights, and marriage equality.

As we head to the beginning of November, everyone’s getting a little tired of all this political back-and-forth. From the scandals, to the emails, to the trucker hats, we’re ready for it to be over. On the Wednesday morning when it's all done (hopefully) and the election results are in, wake up knowing you made your voice heard — despite you being one person, you are one person who matters.

Abby Thompson
Are you here? So are we!
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