Are We Too Partisan for Our Own Good?

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.

Photo from Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Jose L.
Jose L.4 years ago

People always implicitly recognize their potential ignorance on any given topic and are willing to defer to those whom they trust. Why trust a President but not another? Well, first is that you have an idea of where they want to go. If that agrees with you, then clearly you know that the P has many more resources and access to experts and pov than you might on any given issue. The experts are paid to think about certain problems for long periods of time, have training, etc.. You otoh have your own work and things that consume your time (and lack the resources they have). Also, people know they can change their minds. They debate or ask for advice from others for those reasons. They read different pov for those reasons. So it's OK to let yourself trust a bit (faith) and change your position some when someone you trust and trust has a greater understanding of the problem and of the the particulars of the context does so. I mean, we know that killing is not killing. There is self defense, manslaughter, etc. Details matter and can change the story.

Secondly, we are practical. we know in life we have to make compromises, to yield on something to be better positioned on something else.

And in the end, we do create our own headaches or otherwise avoid them. For example, it's easy to let someone die when you don't think about it. Or otoh it can be very very difficult to just accept it.

This flip-flopping based on party lines is all rather natural and not hypocritical in man

Joseph Belisle
Joseph Belisle4 years ago

Admittedly I am biased. I am a wicked, wicked liberal. But I don't subscribe to any party line. I resent that the US has a two party system. I consider Obama Republican-lite. Nothing better. What stank during the Bush administration still stinks when done by the Obama administration. I told the Bush administration so and I am telling the Obama administration so. I push for the liberal agenda. An agenda that reflects what many of the founding 'fathers' believed our nation should become. What the Constitution says we should become. I admire and support many of the causes of Republicans and Tea Party members but I do disagree with more of their causes than I do with Democrats. But both parties have us sold out to the wealthy. I had great hope for Elizabeth Warren. She is better than most but she's showing herself to be another status quo politician. Better than a Republican but much worse than what American needs. I have little faith in either party, in the executive branch, in the legislative branch and the judicial branch (though it is increasing). My faith lies in the American people. The people who truly run the country but just don't believe it. If we wish to change the power structure we can do it. Just like the Indians did in India in the mid-20th century.

Lori Ann Hone
Lori Hone4 years ago

Republicans are not FREE THINKERS, they're brain washed idiots who believe everything they hear on FOX or out of Republican politicians mouths, even when the facts prove it's all lies. I will never, ever vote for a Republican, if no one else is running I mark other and write in Mickey Mouse, certain that is a better choice.

Mary Leon
Mary A Leon4 years ago

Thank you Robert and Kevin!

Sadly, this is the way things are today.

Did you see the 3 pointed hats outside the Capitol today? The Tea Pees were listening to Bachmann, Gohmert and others talk about building a higher wall next to Mexico all along the whole border; repealing 'Obamacares' yet again and auditing the IRS (which I agree with. The IRS has to be overhauled and made fairer and simpler and NO MORE tax loopholes and exemptions for the mega millionaires and billionaires that don't need the extra money! We 99% are the ones who need more refunds!)

When are the GOTP EVER going to talk about creating jobs to fix the Infrastructure? It's always the same things with them: Tax Cuts for the rich, NO to Immigration Reform, NO to 'Obamacares' and NO to abortion.

I thought Boehner's first concern was making the economy better? What happened?

I have to leave now. Hope to be back tomorrow to read more comments.

Robert H.
Robert Hamm4 years ago

Well said, Mary

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown4 years ago

Mary L. Take another green star out of petty cash, my treat!

Mary Leon
Mary A Leon4 years ago

Robert H. I totally agree with you about the Media. They have forgotten their 'search for the truth, no matter what or where' and have mostly sold out to the highest bidder for the money. They are being paid to write what they are told, NOT what is reality.

Most people don't realize that the 'lamestream' Media is at least 80% Conservative owned and operated by powerful overseas groups in Saudi Arabia and mega Conservative Rupert Murdoch. They WANT us to believe it's all a Liberal Media that loves President Obama, but most of us can see through the smoke and mirrors.

People who watch FOX News or listen to Right Wing Radio are of 'self imposed limited intelligence'. I doubt they ever question the nonsense they hear by going to CSPAN and watching Congress in action. They just want to believe everything that is fed to them and not to checks the FACTS. They either don't want to face REALITY or they are so filled with HATE for other American Citizens that don't look like them so they feel justified in listening to people that spew pure HATE, then turn around and say how 'christian' they are and that they believe in the Bible, etc...

Fortunately, these people are slowly fading away. They are being replaced by young people who have open minds and who realize that in order to survive we as a country MUST go forward into the future, not stay in the past.

Marie W.
Marie W4 years ago

Kabuki theatre.

Robert H.
Robert Hamm4 years ago

The media is HYPER partisan. Thats who they make their money…..keeping us agitated. Keeping us at war with each other. And because most get their news from the media of course they are a product of that. The people who own these conglomerate media empires know exactly what they are doing. They simply dodnt care. They are the HAVES and won't loose anything. But we little people will and ARE losing big time.