Bekah Paxton, Staff Writer
Political parties play a huge role in the American voting tradition. Even though, according to a Jan. 12 Gallup poll, Americans have become disenchanted with the two main political parties, the ideologies that shape the parties and those opposing them remain the driving forces of American individual politics.
A common taboo topic for dinner conversation is politics. According to The New York Times writer Thomas Edsall, this fact is becoming increasingly true and politics have become so ingrained in our personal identities that we become offended when someone challenges them.
The political hostility more commonly seen in political conversations today comes partly from the polarization of the two main parties, Democrat and Republican. The two party platforms have become so rigid and unwavering, and some hold those party affiliations close because of some feeling of party patriotism. This is a dangerous phenomenon, as the parties become more stubborn and further from compromise, dedicated party members follow, and the informal but necessary person-to-person discussion of issues in America is not one directed toward the bettering of the country. Instead, it is a struggle to prove one’s politics are “better” or “more right” than another’s. The ideal democratic forum and exchange of ideas in our country just becomes a chaotic yelling match.
Another reason for the ingraining of political beliefs into personal identity is the phenomenon of family politics. In his Jan. 28 column, Edsall quotes Stanford University political scientist Shanto Iyengar and Princeton University researcher Sean Westwood on this matter: “Hostile feelings for the opposing party are ingrained or automatic in voters’ minds.”
Many individuals take on all or some of the political feelings of their parents or other family members, and therefore, divides between the two major parties arises when hostile feelings are bred automatically. This isn’t always the case, though, and adopting political attitudes from family backgrounds certainly isn’t wrong. However, the ideological tensions are exacerbated by unnecessary, but common hostilities.
In his first paragraph of his column, Edsall makes a harsh statement that I agree to be true. He states, “Sources of dispute in contemporary life go far beyond ideological differences or mere polarization. They have become elemental, almost tribal, tapping into in-group loyalty and out-group enmity.”
Many hold their political beliefs so rigidly that any opposing force seems to become the enemy. These attitudes not only cause individuals to shut out ideas of alternative mindsets, but also deteriorates the very reason for freedom of speech in America, which is to exchange ideas and ultimately improve the lives of citizens through the development of compromised solutions. With already polarized parties and now-divided individuals, this goal seems further and further in the distance.
To exhibit the levels of personal offense individuals may have concerning opposing political beliefs, Edsall includes a graphic displaying “the percent of Democrats and Republicans who would be unhappy if their children married someone of the opposing party.” Performed by Shanto Iyengar and colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, the graphs show that in 1960, 4 percent of Democrats and 5 percent of Republicans would be “displeased” if their children married a member of an opposing political party. In 2010, 33 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans felt this sentiment. Not only has party polarization increased, but personal identity and hostility toward opposing ideologies has risen steeply. Similarly, a 2014 Pew Research study concluded that 27 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Republicans believe “that the opposition party’s policies are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”
The fact that so many people are hostile about their political beliefs raises a candle to the political attitudes of those elected to represent the nation. Washington, D.C. is especially infamous for superfluous arguing and inefficiency, and polarized hostile party lines at the individual level does not help the political conversation leading to compromise. For example, if every vote is cast based on a candidate’s party affiliation — and NOT his or her experience, record or ideas about the future of the government — we end up choosing federal representatives who may not even represent us at all, but are just moderate enough that they pulled a slight majority in an election.
Obviously, there is always some healthy dissent between ideologies. Party platforms were built to provide alternate solutions to solving the federal government’s problems. Naturally, party members feel obligated to support their party which supposedly is a stronghold of their personal political beliefs. However, if political positions are taken so closely to heart, tensions rise to harmful levels and the freedom of political conversation is gone. It is transformed into a bloodbath, with no significant outcome which betters the nation or its citizens.