Political Polarization

The notion of political polarization is relatively straightforward, insinuating that the political life in a country becomes polarized to an intensity where two factions contending for power differ in their ideologies and actions and have no discernible common ground. In a democratic system, some degree of polarization is only necessary to maintain healthy competition and for competitors to equip voters with distinctive alternatives. However, when acceptable levels of polarization give way to a society where people perceive and describe politics using an "us" vs. "them" narrative, polarization becomes pernicious. This "severe" or "pernicious" polarization becomes delineated by a binary division, where a nation's political and social spheres split into two opposing factions. Today, these two factions manifest themselves as the conservative, hawkish Right and the liberal, dovish Left.

The plague of polarization endures in almost every corner of the world. Whether it be the creation of the "Remainers" and "Leavers" in Britain after the 2016 referendum on Brexit or the conflict birthed out of a sociopolitical atmosphere steeped in Hindu nationalism in India under PM Modi; whether it be escalating tensions between a right-wing populist party and its adversaries in Poland or the sharpening divide between the Democrats and Republicans in the USA- growing trends of polarization can be observed all over the world.

It is not often that one hears the term polarization to describe a solicited state of affairs. It is natural to expect that severe levels of polarization are detrimental to all democratic institutions. It attacks an autonomous judiciary wherein polarizing leaders blazon courts to be biased or saturate them with loyalists. Further, it fosters an environment where the belief that the government panders to the interests of only one section of society reigns supreme. Research has also brought to the fore that partisan cues nudge people towards accepting policies. A study by Carlee Beth Hawkins and Brian Nosek explains that labeling policies as 'Democrat' or 'Republican' can determine the support a policy receives, depending on the participant's bias.

This political divide between the Right and the Left also reverberates throughout society and spells poison for routine interactions. Turkey presents the most unsettling example, where almost eight out of ten people wouldn't want their daughters to be married to someone who is a supporter of a party they dislike. Polarising conflict also disrupts civil peace and harmony- indicated by a spike in hate crimes all over the world, from India to Poland to the United States.

A crucial step towards curbing this divide is to start voting for policies instead of parties. We further need to start relating to an overarching collective identity instead of focussing on inherent differences. A model that promises much is that of Citizen Assemblies wherein different groups can put into effect the contact hypothesis, which suggests that understanding perspectives can help reduce existing prejudices. The factors that fuel polarization are powerful, and they feed on the heterogeneity of human society. Indeed,

“East is east, and west is west, and never the twain shall meet,” but the need of the hour is conciliation to lead the human race up north.


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