True Life: I am Politically Polarized (And How To Realize That You May Be Too) by Natalie Haytayan

Every two years when the midterm elections come around, political communication students at the University of Delaware iron their suit jackets, and put on their credentials in preparation for the Delaware Debates.

Ideally, the debates foster civil political discourse and encourage a substantial conversation between both Republicans and Democrats. However, for University of Delaware students, hearing the Republican side of the argument can be somewhat of a rare occasion.

In a 2017 survey done by National Agenda students, out of 942 responses, nearly 30% identified as liberal, whereas just under 10% of that sample “usually considered themselves” as conservative. There was a similar gap between UD students who identity as extremely liberal (7%) compared to those who consider themselves extremely conservative (under 2%).

However, The Delaware Debates provide a refreshed reminder that yes indeed- there are two political viewpoints in America. This was something that I too needed to be reminded of.

I was given the opportunity to be a production assistant to the GOP candidates, Scott Walker and Rob Arlett. Both candidates I learned hold extremely different viewpoints on most issues from me. I, like many of my peers here at University of Delaware, identify liberally.

When I was given my assignment, I wondered how I would be able to keep my own political stances silent when working alongside the Republican candidates. Without knowing anything about them other than their party identification, I was immediately struck with defensiveness for my party. It was in this moment, I realized, I too had become the worst thing a political communication student could be…

Politically Polarized.

The polarization between parties doesn’t just apply to University of Delaware students. According to the Pew Research Center, Republicans and Democrats are more polarized today than they have been in the past two decades. Since 1994, the median Democrat and the median Republican have consistently grown further and further apart from another. Furthermore, since 1994, each party has also developed a highly negative view of the opposing party. The views so negative that they see the other party as “so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well being.” The increasing trend of hatred for the other side, and inability to see compromise that has occurred within the last two decades has led people to the extreme state of polarization Americans face today.

Being a production assistant required me to do something that may seem daunting to someone who identifies strictly with one political party. I was required to unbiasedly, observe and listen to the other side. It was at the mention of topics like immigration and Donald Trump, did I notice myself fighting back the urge to defend my own opinion… as if it was being threatened by the mention of its conservative counter.

For many UD students like myself, it may be time to reflect on the effects the hostile political atmosphere has had on your own views . But with an increasing trend of polarization and no sign of any civil rest between the parties in the future, what can we do?

Just like any problem, the first step to solving it is realizing you have it. Ask these questions to test just how much you have grown defensive to your own ideologies:

Answer these questions and then ask yourself, do you feel at war with the opposing party? If you do, welcome to the Club of Political Intolerance. It’s time to sit back and listen to the other side.

Jonathan Haidt, author of our required reading, A Righteous Mind, said that “empathy is the antidote to righteousness, although it’s very difficult to empathize across a moral divide.” Haidt argues that taking the time to see the opposing party members as humans and appeal to their emotional experiences is crucial to laying the foundation to civil moral or political discussions. Part of the problem with the political atmosphere today, is that politics have become a part of your moral code. The only way to alleviate this hatred towards those with differing opinion is to exercise empathy. In order to exercise empathy in an extremely polarized political atmosphere, Americans must appeal to each other’s emotional experiences in life in order to break down the walls that continue to push the parties further and further from common ground.

Dr. Hoffman is an Associate Prof. of Communication, Associate Dir. of the Center for Political Communication, and Dir. of National Agenda Speaker Series, UDel