Although most people like to consider themselves free thinkers, when it comes to politics, the majority of people are prone to play follow the leader. Polls routinely show that how you feel about an issue is often determined by whether the party you affiliate with is considered responsible or not.
NPR has been looking at the issue of partisanship, using the example of the ongoing NSA leak to illustrate the divide. While only 36% of Democrats supported the citizen-spying program when Bush was in office, 64% are in favor of it now that Obama is in office. The results are reversed for Republicans: 75% approved of the NSA’s tactics during the Bush administration, down to 52% currently under Obama.
If it were an isolated example, this switch might be excusable. But time and time again, this phenomenon rears its head. Polls show similar trends regarding foreign policy decisions: an action by a Democrat President is heralded by liberals and derided by conservatives, while a comparable action by a Republican President has the opposite results.
Though a couple of core beliefs (namely gun rights and abortion) appear steadfast regardless of who is in office, even perceptions about the economy are subject to partisan whim. A Cornell study finds that people are more optimistic about the current economic conditions when their party holds the presidency.
Even some fundamental ideologies go out the window. Salon found that just 27% of liberals agreed with the practice of killing terrorism suspects without trial. Yet the number of liberals who supported this strategy shoots up to 48% when they hear Obama has approved the policy. So much for principles!
This hypocritical waffling is a troubling state of affairs for the United States. Democracy only works when people vote for candidates who represent their ideologies, not when we form our ideologies based upon whom we voted for. While it’s natural to prefer one party to another, blind loyalty can be counterproductive.
On top of that, change is more likely to occur when a candidate draws criticism from his or her own base, not from opponents. Altering our standards rather than holding our favored politicians to our expectations is not a method for improving the country.
Additional studies have shown that our partisanship runs extremely deep. At this point, people are more likely to switch or let go of their religious identity when it conflicts with their party’s views rather than the other way around. Moreover, parents are significantly more opposed to the idea of their children marrying someone of a different political affiliation than someone of a different religion or race.
From that, it’s pretty apparent that many Americans have chosen “teams.” The sports-like fanaticism makes for a political climate where we freely criticize the opposition, while giving a free pass to any wrongdoing our own team.
The hypocrisy is hardly the worst part. The deeper this partisanship runs, the more the two-party system maintains a stranglehold on the political system. We’ve either been convinced – or managed to convince ourselves – that the major parties are antithetical. But as they both takes turns promoting war and advancing corporate control, these supposed “differences” that we find excuses for justifying these actions half of the time will not bring us any closer to a solution.
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