Sebi Hume ‘25
Is there anything that Republicans and Democrats can agree on? According to the Pew Research Center’s June 2023 survey of the nationally-representative American Trend Panel, not much. The survey asked 5,115 participants whether they considered each of the 16 political topics to be major national problems, then grouped the percentage of people that responded “yes” by party. Republicans and Democrats did not agree on much; there were only five issues for which the percentage of Republicans was within 10% of the percentage of Democrats. Interestingly enough, one of these issues happened to be the ability of Democrats/Republicans to work together.
Not only was this issue one of the five on which the parties agreed, but it was also the second closest margin of agreement - the percentage figures from the two parties were separated by a single percentage point (62% of Democrats and 63% of Republicans voted “yes”). Only unemployment demonstrated more bipartisan consensus, as 23% of each party viewed it as a national problem. However, unemployment came in right at the bottom of the list, while the inability for opposite parties to cooperate was found right at the top - it ranked third out of all 16 issues in the overall percentage of respondents that viewed it as a very big national problem (62%).
Found only below inflation (65%) and the affordability of healthcare (64%) as well as above issues such as gun violence (60%), the federal budget deficit (56%), and climate change (39%), it is clear that the parties’ inability to work together is something that many Americans believe needs to be addressed. It stands as a roadblock to national progress because it inhibits our ability to tackle other pressing issues on the list. Furthermore, the dominance of party agenda over individual agenda will lead us into a world in which allegiance to political parties replaces allegiance to nation, religion, or even common sense - they will poison the free will and individual liberty that makes our country so special.
We have already entered into this type of world, and the effects are seen on national and local scales. The upcoming presidential election demonstrates how the party system has made the presidential election less democratic. With Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis both vying for the Republican nomination, Republican voters are forced to choose which of the two candidates they want to run against Biden. When one of the candidates is chosen, the other can still run as an Independent, but their chances of success diminish greatly because they lack a loyal party backing them. Even the voters who wished to see them as the nominee most likely would not choose them in the general election because they feel an obligation to their party to choose the Republican candidate, even if they think him the worse option.
In addition to the presidency, the detrimental effects of the Republican/Democrat divide are seen in the Houses of Congress. At the beginning of our nation, the greatest debate relating to Congress was how it was to be structured: should states be represented equally or proportionally? Nowadays, however, the concern over how states are represented has all but disappeared and been replaced by the question of how the parties are represented. With the Senate having even 100 members, members of each party are always vying to gain a majority of 51 seats so that they “control” the Senate, and the same ambition motivates the representatives in the House. The language used to describe the houses nowadays suggests that Congress is no longer being viewed as a collection of individuals representing the interests of their states, but rather two powerful entities battling against each other - our national political climate has prioritized the party over the individual and the state.
Belonging to a party has become an extremely slippery slope in the age of social media. Since 2000, the percentage of Americans who consistently side with one party over the other has doubled, as has the number of Americans who view the other party as a national threat. Algorithms used by the apps we spend much of our time on (like Instagram and YouTube) feed us content that confirms our own opinions instead of exposing us to new ones, leading us farther and farther down the path of our party. This cycle of affirmation at best makes us more sure of our preconceived notions, and at worst it gives us new, radical, and potentially dangerous ideas produced by the extreme edges of our parties.
The polarization that is becoming an increasingly large threat to our country’s well-being is not a new phenomenon. In fact, when our first president left office, he warned against the development of political parties that “serve[d] to organize faction”. I urge the reader to thoroughly examine their political views and whether they arise from individual conviction or party allegiance, and I hope that our politicians will consider Washington’s words as we head into a new era of American politics.
Among Top US Problems: Inflation, Health Costs, Partisan Cooperation | Pew Research Center
Are Social Media Driving Political Polarization? (berkeley.edu)
George Washington's Farewell Address (1796)