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Political Polarization: Social Relationships Over Hard Evidence

The core belief of an individual can affect their political views. / Photo by: Getty Images

 

Every nation has encountered division, caused by religion, views on the country's most pressing issues, social perceptions, politics, and many more. In democratic countries, electing a competent leader who will lead the country or state the next few years is a big deal. Through elections, people participate in improving the nation and influencing progressive change. 

However, elections also mean being divided on who would be the better leader or the better choice. In most cases, people look at the personality and background of the candidate. Others prefer to put more weight on the achievements of the party a candidate is running with. One's political behavior heavily depends on how they view local or national issues and other factors introduced to them. Thus, political polarization arises.

What Political Polarization Looks Like

In politics, polarization refers to the divergence of political attitudes or behavior towards ideological extremes in the context of political parties and democratic systems of government. In most cases, an individual's stance on a particular person, issue, or policy is more likely to be strictly defined by their identification with a particular political party or ideology. This is most evident in the United States, where Democrats agree with Democrats and Republicans agree with Republicans. 

In an article by The New York Times, psychologist Daniel Yudkin along with his colleagues identified a powerful explanation for political polarization. The study showed how people's core beliefs such as parenting philosophy and moral values affect their political views. The researchers asked about 8,000 Americans, both through interviews and online surveys, about their core beliefs and their insights on issues such as abortion, immigration, and gun control. Then, they grouped the answers of people who had similar core beliefs and analyzed how these had an impact on their political views. 

The researchers found that there were seven distinct groups their respondents could be divided into. The progressive activists with 8% of the population tend to be more cosmopolitan, secular, and highly engaged in social media. They are deeply concerned with issues regarding equity and equality. The traditional liberals, which comprised 11% of the population. seemed to value tolerance and compromise. They are the people who tend to be rational, cautious, idealistic, and place great faith in institutions. The passive liberals, 15% of the population, tried to avoid political conversations and seemed very insecure about their beliefs. About 26% of the population are the politically disengaged, who are pessimistic about progress. They are suspicious about external threats and conspiratorially minded. They also tend to be patriotic yet detached from politics. The moderates, which comprised of 15% of the population, tend to shy away from any sort of extremism. They are civic-minded, well-informed, and more engaged in their communities. About 19% of the population are traditional conservatives, who deeply believe in personal responsibility and tend to be patriotic, religious, and highly moralistic. Lastly, the devoted conservatives comprised 6% of the population. They are deeply engaged with politics and hold strident, uncompromising views.

These findings showed that there exists a relationship between a person's core beliefs and their political views. For instance, people who are raised with strict values are more likely to oppose gay marriage. These people also believe in gender norms and stereotypes. 

Additionally, some people argue that social media and the Internet cause political polarization. These people believe that using media outlets and social media as platforms greatly influence the views of people towards a certain issue, person, or policy.

However, researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute and the University of Ottawa stated that whatever the causes of political polarization, social media or the Internet have nothing to do with it. Although people will come upon multiple media outlets, research for information or facts, and stumble upon views opposing theirs, the will be more likely to avoid echo chambers. 

According to Phys.Org, political interests are what drive political polarization, moreso than income, ethnicity, or gender. Those people who have keen political interests are also most likely to be opinion leaders. 

 

Some people stated that political polarization is caused by social media and internet. / Photo by: rawpixel via 123rf

 

Social Relationships in Political Polarization

A recent study conducted by Dartmouth College identified three driving factors in the formation of political and social groups: the relationship of an individual's opinions to those of their social neighbors, social pressure to have stronger opinions, and the benefits of having social connections. The researchers showed that partisanship and division often develop because of ignoring essential information on a certain issue. This is also the reason political polarization exists. 

People tend to choose a group with similar opinions because that would prevent them from psychological stress or "cognitive dissonance." Tucker Evans, lead author of the study, said, "Human social tendencies are what form the foundation of that political behavior. Ultimately, strong relationships can have more value than hard evidence, even for things that some would take as proven fact."

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