Across party lines: How our political differences are changing the country
Lately, political discussion seems to be all anyone is talking about. Everyday, we’re bound to stumble across conversation about the most recent debacle on Capitol Hill or someone’s personal political rant on Twitter or Facebook. What does this constant discussion mean about the state of the land of the free, however?
Though political parties are nothing new, in the past, most Americans held beliefs that were a decent mix of both Democratic (more liberal) and Republican (more conservative) values. In other words, the lines between the two parties were significantly more blurred.
Numerous studies show, however, that politics in America has become more polarized than it ever has been in the past; that is, Americans are moving further and further away from the median. Though there’s been a relatively steady uptick in the number of Americans identifying as independent (38 percent in 1993, 42 percent as of 2017, according to recent Gallup polls), the Democratic party’s views and the Republican party’s views have gradually become more divided from each other. According to a study Pew Research conducted between 1994 and 2014, “The share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades, from 10% to 21%. As a result, the amount of ideological overlap between the two parties has diminished.”
Of course, division often leads to conflict as well. Pew Research finds that, as of 2017, 86% of Americans say conflicts between Democrats and Republicans are either strong or very strong, a broad majority when compared to the percentages of Americans who claim to see strong or very strong conflicts between other groups, such as blacks and whites, rich and poor, and the young and old.
This jump in numbers begs several questions, yet the most pressing may be: what is behind this polarization? Unfortunately, it’s a question whose answer is often disputed. “I think that partisanship has become way more commonly accepted,” says president of Milton’s Young Democrats of America club, Audrey Norris, a statement that certainly makes sense when considering how much time Americans spends watching politics, reading about politics, and talking about politics. “I would say,” Norris goes on, “everyday, I talk about politics.”
On the other hand, perhaps this everyday discussion isn’t always a bad thing–or at least, president of Milton’s Young Republicans of America club, Jack Miller, a senior, doesn’t think so. “It is important to respectfully have conversations with people you disagree with…and form your own opinions,” says Miller. “Discussion and debate are the discourse of democracy.”
Likewise, social media also plays a key role in America’s political exposure. The MIT Technology Review says that the average American spends roughly 24 hours a week online. When you consider that nearly half of Americans agree that “the internet plays an integral role in American politics,” one begins to wonder if the same divide across party lines would be observed if social media and the internet were not such a huge part of millions of Americans’ lives.
Among those millions of Americans is the group most often associated with the recent boom in social media: teenagers. So how is the heated political climate of the country affecting the youth? Though it’s a cliche that younger generations are more rebellious than the generations previous, it isn’t a rare occurrence for children to adopt the political views of their parents. “I see a lot of my peers inherit their opinions from their parents without questioning them,” observes Norris.
However, the constant political conversation coupled with the magnitude of partisanship in America is causing the youth to pay attention. “Being unhappy with the state of our country is what makes me feel like I have to know what’s going on, like I have to understand a way to fix it,” says Norris. She and many others have taken notice of the issues within the nation: racism, homelessness, and gun violence, to name a few.
Teens have taken more than just notice, too; they’ve taken action. In this past midterm election, young voters (ranging from ages 18-29) submitted 215,000 ballots during early voting, a 362 percent increase since 2014. Not to mention, the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C. on March 24, 2018, part of an ongoing campaign to end gun violence, was the largest youth protest since the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in the 1960s and 70s. “Young people are the boots on the ground for political campaigns, and we’re also key in helping our friends and peers register to vote,” Miller explains.
These examples are just a few in sea of other instances in which the young people of America are taking a stand for what they believe in, whatever that might be. “People are very passionate about what they believe in,” says Miller, “ and I think that’s a really good thing whichever side of the issue you fall on.”
So while the United States doesn’t always feel so united anymore, as long as the youth continue to exercise their rights and build their own influence, the political gap may be one that we’re finally able to close. After all, one thing history has proved young people are good at, is change.
feature photo courtesy of: Sloan Salinas