The partisan divide in America is stark.
A recent poll discovered that 61 percent of Democrats view Republicans as “racist/bigoted/sexist.” Over half of Republicans view Democrats as “spiteful.”
About a third of Americans would be “disappointed” if a close family member married a person on the other side of the political aisle.
How do Democrats describe Republicans in this poll? Selfish, greedy, corrupt, spineless, fearful, and bad. Republicans describe Democrats as socialist, angry, hypocritical, uninformed, power-hungry, and violent.
The growing polarization of the American electorate has spawned entirely new fields of political science research. For example, the fact that about a third of Americans would be disappointed if a close family member married a person with different political beliefs is an example of affective polarization, or the phenomena that our feelings are different towards members of our own “groups” compared with outsiders.
Perhaps the most fascinating research being done on this subject comes from political scientists Leonie Huddy and Alexa Bankert. They note that political partisanship is less a result of differing ideology and more a result of social identity. Partisanship’s “social nature” accounts for its ability to “generate strong emotions and drive political engagement,” they contend.
What can be done to reduce political tribalism? Bipartisan legislating on issues with widespread public support could help. One such issue is voting rights.
While Americans delivered a somewhat mixed message in the recent midterm election (but not really), with Democrats seizing the House and Republicans fortifying the Senate, voting rights ballot initiatives passed in several key states.
Michigan’s Proposal 2, which would establish an independent redistricting committee, passed with 61 percent of the vote. Proposal 3 — which included various voting reforms such as straight-ticket voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day voter registration — also passed with 67 percent of the vote.
Maryland’s Question 2, which establishes same-day registration, passed with 67 percent of the vote. Maryland is now the 17th state (including Washington, DC) to permit same day registration.
Nevada’s Question 5 passed with 60 percent of the vote, establishing automatic voter registration. Nevada is now the 14th state (plus Washington, DC) to have automatic voter registration.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Floridians approved a ballot initiative to re-enfranchise an estimated 1.6 million felons who have completed their prison terms. Amendment 4, passed with 65 percent approval, will alter the political landscape of the most populous swing state in America ahead of the 2020 election.
Americans on both sides of the political aisle support making voting easier, not harder. A sweep of pro-voting ballot initiatives proves as much. With so much political gridlock in Washington, perhaps this issue can create a rare opportunity for bipartisan consensus.