Monday, June 12, 2017

Ideological Balkanization: Coming Apart at the Seams? Popping your Political Bubble.

Written By: Spencer Bauer
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Student, Georgia College and State University
Published: 6/12/2017
Whatever your political stances may be, the preliminary days of President Trump’s administration have exhibited that “[binding] the wounds of division” in society1 — as President Trump so succinctly put it on Inauguration Day, is much harder to accomplish in practice than in mere rhetoric. If anything, mass protests like the Women’s March present only a greater rift in what already appeared to be a fairly balkanized US political realm where people seem too comfortable living in their own political bubble.

Long before Donald Trump's presidency, the feeling of an ubiquitous polarization in the US was increasingly palpable in the waning years of George W. Bush’s administration and throughout the Obama administration. A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center shows that since 1994, the average American’s political views have become more entrenched in partisanship with the average Liberal becoming more liberal and the average Conservative becoming more conservative. In fact, this study also showed that Liberals and Conservatives not only disagree over political philosophies, but as “partisan animosity has risen substantially”, there has been an increase in partisan disagreements over basic human functions like “where they want to live, the kind of people they want to live around and even whom they would welcome into their families.”2

The US is not alone in this realm of atypical and uncomfortable polarization. Recently, there has been a “[broad] ideological shift in European politics” where “extreme positions are represented more frequently…especially from those positions at the far-right of the political spectrum”3. While it is not definitively known why this polarization is occurring at a global scale, theories exist of it being inherent centrifugal forces engrained in Constitutional politics4, or something that is being exacerbated by the evolving media5. However, while finding the causal variables are important, one must also mitigate the disadvantageous and apparent effects caused by high polarization.

Growing up in the US, we are typically instructed not to talk about politics (or religion and money for that matter). This seems based on the preconceived and ridiculous notion that interactions simply cannot be sustained between people with open and differing viewpoints. This cultural norm, while seemingly harmless, is likely only strengthening the divide. In the short time that I have been at the World Affairs Council of Atlanta, it has become clear that our mission of creating an informative space for stimulating discourse is a partial remedy for this issue. The insightful programs I have helped implement covered a range of topics from speakers with diverse ideological backgrounds. Whether it is improving relations between Israel and Palestine or the future political economy of Cuba, my biggest takeaway has been that people generally have the same goals in mind. Instead, disagreements mainly arise in figuring out how  to achieve these goals; and in a society where regular political conversations are tabooed, figuring out the “how” can be the hardest part. Therefore, interacting with people who have different life experiences and perspectives than your own is a great first step to popping your political bubble. 

1. Trump, Donald. “Inaugural Address: Trump’s Full Speech.” CNN, Turner Broadcasting System, 20 Jan. 2017, 
2. Suh, Michael. "Political Polarization in the American Public." Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. N.p., 11 June 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.  
3. Groskopf, Christopher. "European Politics Is More Polarized than Ever, and These Numbers Prove It." Quartz. Quartz, 30 Mar. 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2017. 
4. Lupu, Noam. "Party Polarization And Mass Partisanship: A Comparative Perspective." Political Behavior 37.2 (2015): 331-356. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. Web. 8 Feb. 2017. 
5. Prior, M. “Media and Political Polarization.” Annual Review of Political Science 16: 101–127. Web. 2013.

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