BY ANUSHA SENAPATI '24
Divisive words hurled on social media. Echo chambers trumpeting one cohesive thought. Silence greeting a teacher opening the classroom floor for debate. Sound familiar? Today, polarization, the division wrought by politics, drives a deep wedge between communities, whether it be on social media platforms or in everyday settings like the workplace or classroom. This culture—one that discourages independent thought and challenges one’s beliefs—leads people to form perspectives based on a strict binary. At first glance, this political split may not seem obvious, yet it amplifies the negative influences on interpersonal communication in an era that is becoming increasingly political while discouraging true opinions.
In the U.S., societal discourse correlates with personal beliefs and political ideologies. In debates about controversial topics, such as abortion rights, gun control, and racial inequality, political affiliation often shapes someone’s opinion to an extreme extent. Political polarization occurs when an individual forms a set ideology based on their support for a certain political party, which is evident in opinions regarding abortion. In a Pew Research study, 81 percent of Democrats believed that abortion should be legal in all cases, whereas only 14 percent of Republicans believed the same. This highlights how more people are conforming to their party’s beliefs; it is harder to form nuanced opinions without getting caught in the crossfire of political loyalty over personal belief. However, topics that affect individuals shouldn’t be attached to politics. When people politicize such issues, they become weapons for each political side to attack the other with, making politics divisive and more ideological.
This idea begs the question of whether politics have stolen individual voices. As seen in a separate Pew Research study, the percentage of liberal Democrats and the percentage of conservative Republicans have both quadrupled over the course of 20 years. With political parties that adhere mostly to outlook ideals or topics that seem to reflect debatable beliefs, opinions follow a black-and-white way of thinking. Going against the norm frustrates fellow party members and only furthers political turmoil.
The political division is also evermore present in our upcoming election. This year, congressional primaries occurred, giving both parties’ supporters the chance to hear about their favorite candidates’ stances on key issues. An analysis of these stances reveals, unsurprisingly, that some of the main issues raised by Democrats and Republicans included abortion, climate change, and gun control. With politicians that blur the line between moral and political issues, it is evident that society will become slow to respond to current crises. These issues emphasize deeply rooted moral decision-making within our political parties, including open discussions during congressional primaries. This communication greatly influences how people vote, and having politicians discuss such fragile issues is inherently immoral. When this communication is limited, it’s easier to visualize politics playing a less dominant role in our everyday decision making.
As political polarization becomes more extreme, it’s imperative to think critically about your own opinions. It’s easy to let predetermined group opinions guide your opinions and how they form, but break free from this cycle. Not only does adhering to a set of beliefs stifle your own opinion, but associating every opposing opinion with another political party only widens the divide between them. Conversations regarding political stances are difficult, but greater understanding begins with productive discussion.