Is polarization a problem in the US

Your or my president? : The polarization of US citizens is making the election a battle

- Daniel Benjamin has been President of the American Academy in Berlin since July.

The fact that Joe Biden seems to be at least ten percentage points ahead of his opponent nationwide in surveys and clearly leads in the critical swing states may give many Germans the feeling that they can finally breathe a sigh of relief. For many in this country, Biden's victory in the presidential election on November 3 is synonymous with restoring the USA they knew from before Donald Trump: not always the perfect friend, but one you can rely on in critical moments.

After Biden's inauguration, US re-entry into the Paris Climate Agreement would likely follow swiftly, and work on re-entry into the nuclear pact with Iran would begin, despite opposition from Republicans. No one in a Biden government would ever call the EU an enemy of the United States. Still, it is a mistake to assume that if Biden wins, the US will automatically return to what it used to be.

Much of the obvious division in American society that has caused so much chaos and suffering over the past four years has developed over decades. To put it bluntly, no election result will end the American polarization crisis.

The effects of this polarization are numerous. Our political parties have long ceased to be "big-screen organizations" whose members consist of a mixture of conservatives, moderates and liberals. Now the left is democratic, the right is republican, and the center is all too often a no man's land. Geographically, we have seen a great “separation” for decades. People who shared political tendencies moved to areas populated by like-minded people.

In a recent New York Times article, a 50-year-old Michigan Democrat wrote: “When we were children we had many friends whose parents were Republicans. I don't know if my children could name any. ”Indeed, it appears that today Democrats and Republicans not only live in different states and cities, but also live in different worlds of perception.

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In the online world, they select news feeds and groups of friends who affirm their views and in no way challenge them. This is so clearly noticeable on television that the conservative news broadcaster Fox News has, in the opinion of academics, made a significant contribution to strengthening the tendency towards the Republican Party and to politicizing numerous non-political issues. For example, it has been scientifically proven that Fox shows lead viewers to refuse to wear a mask.

For decades, pollsters have been asking many questions about how much political polarization affects American life. One of the most interesting questions that has been asked again and again since the 1950s is, "If you had a daughter of marriageable age, would you prefer her to marry a Democrat or a Republican?"

When the Gallup polling company first asked this question in 1958, 72 percent of respondents said they didn't care. Today only 45 percent answer that way. Among respondents who identify particularly with their parties, the number of those who want their children to marry someone from the same party has risen to 60 percent for the Democrats and 63 percent for the Republicans. There is a lot of antipathy hidden behind these answers, which has been fueled over the past decades.

The fear of losing privileges is great

The importance of this problem can be seen in many ways. The nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the US Supreme Court, for example, intensified public disputes over the subjects of abortion and health care. Obamacare will be debated in a court hearing in November and Amy Coney Barrett, who was appointed Monday, will attend.

The Black Lives Matter movement, which grew stronger after the death of George Floyd, also represents the deepening division in society. Racism and the unjust treatment of ethnic minorities that goes with it are often the trigger for the polarization problem in American society.

The split between the parties began with the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, which led to an exodus of Democrats from their party in the southern states. Since then, the parties have changed: while the Democratic Party attracts minorities, an above-average proportion of the female population and people with a university degree, the Republican Party has predominantly become the home of whites, especially white men who have not studied, and by evangelical Protestants (also white).

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Scientists have extensively documented that the 2016 election was not just about the anger of parts of the globalized white population. Their fears of heading towards minority status for the first time in almost 250 years also played a role, as well as the fear that whites would benefit less from the political decisions made in Washington than other ethnic groups.

So how will the crisis of general polarization in US society continue? The issue is important because in America politics has become a massive burden on national life.

Much depends on the choice. If Biden wins, but the Senate remains in Republican hands, there is much to be said for the government to remain paralyzed. This would further exacerbate the problem of polarization, and anger and frustration would at some point boil over. If, on the other hand, the Democrats win the Senate, the White House and - as expected - the House of Representatives, the Republican Party will have to face a real conscience test. It could then become a permanent minority party.

Whatever the outcome, nothing will change overnight. America's reckoning with its own division could remain inward for some time. The US may well regain a leadership role in global affairs. But just as you never step into the same river twice, the America that emerges from the polarization torture will be a different one, one that we can only guess at today.

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