Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Patrick Cadle - Research Report 10: The Polarization Paradox

“The Polarization Paradox: Why Hyperpartisanship Strengthens Conservatism and Undermines Liberalism” written by Mathew Nisbet and Dietram Scheufele, is an article than analyzes contemporary American political affairs. Specifically, it takes a look at the widening polarization between America’s main political parties. Mathew Nisbet is an assistant professor of communications at American University in Washington DC and Dietram Scheufele is a Life Sciences and Communications professor at UW-Madison. The article was written in the summer of 2012 before the presidential election that year between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Both authors have a track record of writing about political affairs and especially political communication in the United States. This article recalls political events, mainly presidential elections, over the past decade and analyzes the different strategies political parties used to further their ideological agendas as well as to communicate to their voter base and constituency. The polarization paradox is a term used to describe the effects of the increasing partisanship in America’s congress and the effects it has on the GOP and DNC.

The polarization of American politics is describing the widening gap between conservative and liberal ideology seen through the increasing partisanship in both the Republican and Democrat parties. Both parties are moving towards their “ideological poles” but there has been a stronger rightward shift and this plays a large part in the polarization. Polarization has also been aided by the changes in the media system. In the era of the 24-Hour news cycle, filled with political pundits and commentators, news organizations are producing ideological media that reinforce their viewer’s beliefs, further reinforcing polarization. There is a “spiral of political polarization and mobilization” among the most educated and politically engaged people in the United States today. Often aggressive political strategies fueled by interest groups and short term goals turn away moderate and less interested people causing political disengagement and demobilization in society. The Republican Party has come out with many aggressive political strategies and the “Conservative Message Machine” is dominated by the Republican’s “Money Matrix”. Conservative supported think tanks like the Cato institute cultivate conservative ideology which are funneled through the message machine. The Money Matrix is composed of about two hundred mega donors who have their priority set to extreme conservative ideology even over that of the Republican Party. After the Passing of Citizens United v. the FEC corporations could donate unlimited amounts of money to political parties without formal disclosure. This fundamentally changed the way elections were run in the United States and often benefited the Republicans more narrow voter base, compared to the Democrat’s wide voter base. A lot of time young people and minorities are turned off by negative political campaigns which in turn hurts the Democratic party because this demographic is a large part of the Democrat’s wide voter base. This is the paradox between of political polarization, the idea that Conservatives benefit more as polarization increases due to lack of voter turnout.
The new idea for liberal political strategy is to focus on long term goals while focusing resources on building civic culture instead of combating the conservatives with a “liberal message machine”. By reforming civic culture and political institutions in a way that will bring about moderation will entice more political participation and further the progressive Ideology. A more diverse group of voters is going to help the Democratic Party due to their large voter base. Mending the civic culture will surely support liberals more than increasing polarization did. Another strategy to aid progressives is investing in reforms of political institutions. Fighting to reverse current campaign finance laws, strengthening regional newspapers, and diversifying academic institutions can all help to bring back American politics to the center where real progressive advancements can be achieved.

I believe this article did a good job at explaining contemporary American politics and the ways political parties run their campaigns. The article almost seemed like a guide for progressive politicians and in many ways it was. The article showed how politics in America has become polarized over the past decade aided by advancements in news media as well as the Republican Party’s political strategy. I would be more skeptical reading this article than usual because it has a very strong liberal vantage point. The article makes sound arguments such as why liberals would be better off warring against polarization and how the Republican party aided and befitted from. But there are also many opinions stated such as whether or not current campaign finance laws actually hurt the democratic process or that shortening the primary election season would actually be a benefit to political representation. Overall the article gives a good analysis of party politics in America and reasons for increasing political polarization in the United States.

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