Politics

Are partisan politics bad for America?

Partisan Politics: Passionate Divide Fuels Voter Surge

Politics today aren’t just partisan; they are hyper-partisan.  A polarizing political environment exists at the national and local levels.  Media coverage tends to embrace the extremes as news shows, websites and radio programs use the sensational to attract viewers.  Following politics can be exhausting, if not outright depressing. Many people feel caught in a tug-of-war between the proverbial “left” and “right.”  The political spectrum seems to be getting heavy on the ends. It is fair to ask if partisan politics are bad.  The quick answer seems to be “yes.” However, there are also some advantages to partisan politics and even the highly partisan news coverage we see today.

Pros of Partisan Politics

High levels of engagement

One advantage to hyper-partisan vitriol is that connects with people on an emotional level and makes them more passionate about political topics.  There is a natural tendency to gravitate toward people who share our ideas and ideals.  When politicians “speak to their base” they are attempting to connect with the people who are most likely to agree with them as opposed to trying to convince a more neutral audience. So what is the advantage of catering to people who already agree? The increased engagement leads to people being passionate about their candidates or elected officials and, by extension, their causes.  Most importantly, a high level of engagement leads to the next pro: increased voter turnout.

Increased voter turnout

When people are passionate about their politics, it makes sense that they are more likely to go out and vote.  Most would probably agree that partisanship has been at a peak over the last couple of election cycles, and voter turnout in the U.S. has indeed increased.  For the last two mid-term elections, which always see less motivation than presidential elections, the shift is substantial.  Voter turnout in 2018 was higher than in 2014 across every major demographic.  The following chart from U.S. Census Bureau shows the details:

Chart from the U.S. Census Bureau showing increased voter turnout from 2014 to 2018 across all demographic categories.

Variety of news sources

Partisan politics, for better or worse, also offers substantial entertainment.  Viewers on either side of the political spectrum have lots of choices: from MSNBC to Fox News, from Rachel Maddow to Sean Hannity, from the Huffington Post to Breitbart.  Because highly engaged, passionate citizens can’t seem to get enough of their daily political news and opinions, the media sources have proliferated.  These are not usually unbiased, non-partisan media sources, of course, but collectively they offer a wealth of ideas and perspectives.

Cons of Partisan Politics

Increased anger

Being more emotional about our politics is always a good thing, of course.  As our political divide grows, so does our animosity toward the “other side.”  Countless family dinner conversations have been ruined, and untold numbers of Facebook friends have been blocked.  More seriously, though, it is also becoming more common to see physical violence at political rallies and demonstrations, and the ugly side of politics seems to grow uglier by the day.

Less political cooperation

In many systems of government, it is important for opposing political parties to find common ground for passing legislation.  A sure way to disappoint everyone is for government to get nothing done. Yet, that is often the case when two or more political parties find themselves sharing power.  Rather than looking for bipartisan opportunities, politicians are more likely than ever to entrench themselves in partisan positions so that they don’t upset their “base” by compromising on even the most extreme positions. 

For example, in April 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, vowed to block legislation that comes from Democrats.  He said, “If I’m still the majority leader in the Senate think of me as the Grim Reaper. None of that stuff is going to pass.” 

Just a few months later, Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden faced fierce criticism from his opponents and the media after making comments about past cooperation with Republicans, including some who were segregationists.  In his defense, Biden summed up the state of political cooperation quite well.  He said, “But today, you look at the other side an you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”

One-sided perspectives

With the decrease in political cooperation, and the increase in media sources dedicated to either liberal or conservative politics, people have become far more likely to hear just one side of a story.  Very few media outlets and political pundits are in the business of examining politics from both sides. They don’t often look objectively at the pros and cons.  And as media consumers, we are often too willing to limit ourselves to those with whom we agree.  There is comfort in agreement, and it feels good to hear points and perspectives that don’t challenge your belief system. 

One-sided media limits our exposure to different views, creating echo chambers. This strengthens biases and weakens critical thinking. As people consume media that matches their beliefs, they become less likely to consider other views or engage in meaningful discussions across party lines.

Conclusion

Our analysis at Pro and Con List concludes that the disadvantages of partisan politics, such as decreased political cooperation and increased violence at rallies, significantly outweigh the benefits. The growing reliance on one-sided media further complicates the landscape, undermining healthy democratic discourse. It’s clear that while partisan politics energizes some voters, it also deepens divisions, making it more challenging to address collective issues effectively.

Your voice matters in shaping a balanced political landscape. Join the discussion below and share your thoughts on partisan politics. Do the benefits outweigh the costs in your view?

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