We the People: Political Polarization


SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – In our second installment of our Courageous Conversation: We The People, our political analyst Dr. Brian Calfano put today’s political polarization in perspective.

By now you’ve seen those political maps of the US with states shaded in red and blue.

Since 1984, the television networks have designated blue to mean Democratic states and red to stand for Republican states.

In reality, though, the most dominant color on this map isn’t one you see on election night: purple.

This county level electoral map produced by the website Politico shows that the solid “reds” and “blues” are in isolated pockets of the country.

Sprinkled across the nation are shades of purple representing counties whose vote percentage for the president was generally between 40 and 60 percent.

One way to interpret this is that Americans don’t conform to the characterization of a polarized people. But, instead, the people only appear polarized because they get just two real choices in any given election that have a shot of winning.

This is also a chicken and egg question. are the parties and candidates polarized to appeal to people or do the people demand polarization?

Dr. Melissa Michelson is an expert on political polarization and teaches political science at Menlo College in California.  Michelson says “we’ve become kind of more tribal. We’ve got politicians encouraging people to really identify with one political party and really feel like it’s us versus them.”

If Michelson is correct, it means that we are as responsible for the state of modern politics as the politicians we blame for polarization.

But it’s also true that perspectives drive behavior. We are capable of coming together as a people but we quickly fall back to our differences. 

The national tragedy in Las Vegas being just the most recent example. Our nation grieved for the loss of life and then became polarized again when the grieving was politicized around gun control.

There are clear differences across our nation, but there’s a lot more commonality than we the people often appreciate.

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