Sunday, November 3, 2013

Research Report: The Polarization Paradox

     The Polarization Paradox: Why Hyperpartisanship Strengthens Conservatism and Undermines Liberalism was a researched analysis of partisanship within the United States and policy proposition to help address it, published by Dietram Scheufele and Matthew Nisbet through The Breakthrough Institute in Summer 2012.
      Both Scheufele and Nisbet are academics with impressive resumes in the area they address. Scheufele is a professor of Science Communication at University of Wisconsin-Madison and honorary professor of Communication at the Technische Universität Dresden. His most recent research is examining the role of social media in society and various religious group responses to nanotechnology, and he's also published extensively in the areas of public opinion, political communication and emerging attitudes toward new technology. Nisbet is an associate professor in the School of Communication at American University. He specifically studies the role of communication and improving advocacy relating to health, security and the environment.
      The Breakthrough Institute's mission is “accelerate the transition to a future where all the world's inhabitants can enjoy secure, free, and prosperous lives on an ecologically vibrant planet.” Essentially, they are a slightly left-leaning non-profit organization which publishes and pushes for innovative policy proposals on a variety of issues (chiefly environmental, but not exclusively). They enjoy a wide variety of high-profile contributors (such as Scheufele and Nisbet) and have had work incorporated into legislation such as the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. They are also provide a list of funding and donors, increasing their reliability by showing the money behind their research.
        Clearly both the authors and publication are generally more climate- and science-policy focused, but both also have a familiarity with the increasing partisan polarization of lawmaking bodies in Washington. In writing their article The Polarization Paradox, Scheufele and Nisbet clearly have an interest in promoting an end to political gridlock and apathy – as well as providing policy advice to the Democrats, who are traditionally more in favor of the environmental and scientific policy changes that the Breakthrough Institute (and likely they themselves) would favor. They also likely have professional interest in the article and the recognition that the research could bring to their respective fields. 
      There was a reaction article titled “Polarization Is Here To Stay” published against this policy proposal, also through The Breakthrough Institute. In this, author Mark Schmitt claims that the issue has been oversimplified and that Democrats cannot simply sit back and compromise with conservative polarization. He uses the example of the Affordable Care Act, pointing to the fact that conservative and moderate voters will only see the Republican distrust of the bill, no matter how much a compromise it's content might contain. However, many of the other comments on the article were positive; considering Obama's win in the 2012 elections (as well as the huge public opinion blow that the Republicans took after the government shutdown), some of the “appeal to the moderates” and “raise the costs of opposition” tactics may have worked.
       Overall, the article, though clearly intended for a Democratic reader, was well-researched by authors who are experienced in the area, published in a well-respected publication, and encountered not a lot of opposition. It was therefore a fairly comprehensive analysis of the history of polarization and how it has harmed Democrats. And though the policy changes suggested were aimed at only fueling Democratic and/or success, it can be hoped that a break to government gridlock and increasing political participation is a positive thing for a society as whole.

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