Political Research Quarterly Questions



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Polarization in the Political System






















Polarization in the Political System

Political l polarization is the division of political attitudes and ideologies into two contrasting political groups. It refers to the divergence of political ideologies into two distinct ideologies. Political scientists DiMaggio et al. (1996) classify polarization as both a state and a process. As a state, polarization refers to the degree to which political opinions are opposed to a particular abstract maximum. As a process, polarization refers to the continued increase in the opposition with time. This essay will give a detailed analysis of polarization in the political system, paying close attention to the types of political polarization, its causes, and the impacts of contrasting political ideologies.

Political scientists categorize political polarization is classified into two levels which are elite polarization and mass polarization. The special polarization deal with the political class like elected members and the political leaders. Ideally, it is all about the political class whereby there is a big division between the ruling party and the opposition party, each holding contrasting opinions. This kind of polarization is expected in the parliamentary form of governance whereby the party in power and the opposition. An excellent example of this kind of polarization is the U.S. system of government, where we have two political parties; The Democrat and the Republican. The party in opposition act as the watchdog and oversees the operations of the ruling party.



On the other hand, mass polarization refers to the division that occurs when the masses or rather the electorates are split and take distinct political sides. in this scenario, each side questions the moral authority of the other, terming the rival party as a threat to its survival. Holding strong political by the electorates is not always based on logical ideologies, but election outcomes dictate most. The masses may polarize themselves according to politics or based on geographical factors like location and income levels.

In terms of nature, polarization can be pernicious or benign. Each of the two types of polarizations has causes and effects.

Pernicious polarization

This type of polarization has gradual harmful effects on society and affects democratic functions. Pernicious polarization occurs when a political split overrides all other division factors to the extent that people’s divisions are entirely on political grounds. The hard political stance assumed by each group is not based on ideology. The explosion of this kind of polarization leads to distrust between two political affiliations. The masses begin to see politics in two perspectives as “them vs. us.”

Pernicious polarization arises when a single political split takes dominance in a rather plural political environment. This is more so when that single political overrides other factors of the political divide. Political polarization also arises when political leaders try to pursue their political ambitions using strategies to polarize the masses. For instance, grouping voters with divisive, demonizing language jeopardizes the harmonious living of the general public and exploits established grievances. Opposing political elites then pay back with such polarizing ideologies or fail to ultimately develop any effective non-polarizing solution. Pernicious polarization is harmful to a country’s development. It drags the country downwards by fuelling division among its citizen, which may go beyond salvage if corrective measures are not put in place.

There are adverse effects of this pernicious polarization. It affects governance immensely because individuals become intolerant, arriving consensus and compromise becomes a tall order for an individual as they take stands along political lines. Pernicious polarizations also weaken democracy, erode the basic legal processes, and undermine justice in the judiciary. It also makes the public hate politics because they feel that their actions have not substantial influence on political affairs. Another effect of pernicious polarization on governance is that it promotes violence among the people because it operates on discrimination and erodes public trust. In a country where destructive polarization has been practiced, you will find the winner of an election trying to weaken the loser of an election so that the loser does not pose a threat in the future. It is an idea of killing the opposition politically so that the ruling party rules “forever.” The public fee that they have no say in as far as politics are concerned because they are deprived of their political power to decide who should govern them.

Another effect of pernicious polarization is that the public loses trust in the government. The electorates lose confidence with the public institutions such as courts because they feel that justice will not be realized. Media houses, politicians, and academics become totally biased and thus unreliable. Journalists give biased stories.



Benign polarization

This type of polarization is a bit beneficial as it promotes democracy. Political analysts continue to discuss divergent opinions about the disadvantages and benefits of political polarization. It is essential for the growth of democracy in a country. A democratic government runs its economy and enjoys an upward trend instead of a country that is not democratic. It encourages public participation and engagement in politics: Polarized citizens feel motivated to participate in politics more often. Polarization also involves pluralistic approval to politics, which is crucial for the growth of democracies that rely on citizens to consider multiple policies and have thorough, constructive debates between them. Ideally, this kind of engagement and pluralism ultimately produce an effective, stable government: It helps societies identify optimal policies for solving their most significant problems and are unlikely to be overturned when a new party takes power since they are mutually agreed upon.

Causes of political polarization

Political polarization in a country has various causes that range from political parties, media, political ideologies of the public, and redistricting.

Party polarization is one of the causes of political polarization when there are two divergent parties, with each party fighting to win the hearts of the public by tarnishing the rival party. Political leaders play a very crucial role in affecting party polarization. A good example is in the United States Congress, where the party with the majority representation prioritizes positions aligned with its party ideologies.

A study on polarization by Nicholson (2012) discovered that contentious stamen by political leaders of the opposition polarize electorates more than leaders of their political party. This is, therefore, a clear indication that political parties play a role in polarization. Donors and sponsors of political parties also influence and determine legislator’s stance regarding politicians’ positions.

Another cause of political polarization is the general public. Political science scholars argue that political polarization reflects the ideologies held by the people and their voting patterns. They claim that there is a relationship between the doctrines of public differences and the polarization of representatives. An increase in preference differences is usually temporary and ultimately results in compromise. Religion, ethnicity, and cultural divides can influence polarization. For example,  Ideological differences between the Republicans and the Democrats go beyond the political range and cross-religious boundaries, Layman et al. (2005). Democrats consider themselves moderate in religious affairs, whereas the Republicans are believed to be more of traditionalists. Research has shown that voters who associate themselves with the Republican would vote in for more of an evangelist than their counterparts in Democrat. Polarization among the public can be determined by inequality in economic stability.

Mass media has also proved to another cause of polarization. Political scientists argue that media has influenced how the public vote in the past, as partisan viewers who were previously termed as less accorded more polarized news media. Countries like China and South Korea, where media markets are less diversified, have become polarized because the political media in those countries is diversified.

Research shows that providing the public with neutral and objective information can go a long way in reducing polarization. The last cause of political polarization is redistricting, which means manipulating political borders to favor a particular party, especially in the U S. This claim is based on the reasoning that the less competitive districts that are created would lead to the election of the most popular candidates who represent the leading party but fails to account for the voice of the minority.

The U.S. perspective on political polarization is that the implications of political polarization are apparent and may include some benefits and unforeseen consequences.

There are pretty several modern-day examples of political polarization outside U S. In some European countries like Greece, Poland, Germany, France, and the U.K., much of the political polarization either draw more socialist left wing party or more nationalist right wing party. The more polarized parties sprout from the discomfort of more moderate parties that cannot provide positive changes either in the right or left direction.

There have been endless debates by scholars over the idea of political polarization. The bone of contention has always been the question about its validity and the modalities of measuring it. Critiques of political polarization have drafted four basic arguments that that criticize the validity of political polarization.

Limitations of the two-party system. On this, critics argue that one may not find it easy to draw an accurate conclusion about whether there is political polarization in the U.S. or not since there are a limited number of presidential candidates and there are only two political parties.

Partisanship-scholars argue that individuals are separated by ideological coherence, but it is the partisanship and political alignments that into one party or to its rival party.

Cultural differences-proponents if this argument criticizes political polarization with the idea that features such as race, sex, educational background, and age also influence voting patterns. The geographic location also plays a significant role in determining political alignment. Lastly, there is socioeconomic status, which has a substantial influence on voting patterns and political alignment.

Western focus-critiques of political polarization argue that scholars need to widen their scope of studies and compare their findings internationally. This will allow them to look at polarization from a broader perspective. It can therefore be concluded that political polarization is not only determined by politics alone. Other factors influence political polarization, such as religion, race, geographical location, age, and the social class of the electorates, as discussed in the essay.














Svolik, M. W. (2019). Polarization versus democracy. Journal of Democracy30(3), 20-32.

McCoy, J., & Somer, M. (2019). Toward a theory of pernicious polarization and how it harms democracies: Comparative evidence and possible remedies. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science681(1), 234-271.

Strickler, R. (2018). Deliberate with the enemy? Polarization, social identity, and attitudes toward disagreement. Political Research Quarterly71(1), 3-18.

Vegetti, F. (2019). The political nature of ideological polarization: The case of Hungary. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science681(1), 78-96.



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