In the University of Rhode Island’s March 2018 Political Science newsletter, Professor Brian Krueger writes, “Disagreeing with mutual respect, listening with the intention to learn about others, and an openness to new ideas and evidence seems quaint, weak or worse, a betrayal to your political tribe.”
According to a 2016 Gallup Poll, approximately 77 percent of Americans perceive the nation as divided. A more recent 2017 study by the Pew Research Center, suggests that the partisan divide on political values has grown even wider within the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency.
“There is not as much overlapping of political parties anymore,” said Krueger. “There used to be southern conservative Democrats and northern liberal Republicans but now we’ve seen people move towards their own ideological camp.”
Krueger adds that he does not believe that the United States is anymore conservative or radical, just that people feel they have to identify themselves in a certain direction.
The political divide did not happen overnight, rather it has been evolving since the end of the Cold War. Krueger says that the the political parties during the Cold War tended to be non-ideological. “JFK was just as hardcore of a ‘Cold Warrior’ as Nixon,” said Kruger. “The Cold War gave us something to have consensus about.”
However, the general political cohesiveness of the Cold War era was not the norm for the country, and Kruger says that the United States has always been more divided than not. “Just think of the Populist movement and the Civil War,” Krueger said. “Our collective memory remembers less division but for the majority of our history, that is not the case.”
Kruger says one thing that contributes to current political polarization is media consumption. The Pew Research Center found that approximately 45 percent of adults say they get some of their news from Facebook. People tend to seek out information they most agree with, which only furthers the divide. “We don’t know who is a journalist anymore,” said Krueger. “Lines have been blurred between real and fake and social media is a part of that. It’s amazing how facts have become debated.”
Although Kruger has not done exact research in to the political climate at URI, he says from what he’s observed, the students on campus are generally respectful of one another. “I am often pretty proud of how people on this campus have tried to respond to these issues with civil dialogue and debate,” said Kruger.
With midterm elections coming up, it is important that everyone votes. “Even if you feel that this election doesn’t matter, there are parts of the voting system that you will benefit from,” said Kruger.
A common reason people do not vote is that they think their vote will not matter in the outcome of the election. Yet Kruger believes that we need to have voting as a duty and not as an additional chore. “Even if it is not going to sway the election, it is important to let those in power know that the people are paying attention. Voting is such an important thing to do and it is part of our responsibility in keeping a healthy democracy.”