Stateside: Addressing the political divide

Nov 5, 2012

The polarization of American politics has been widely documented through social media. Many citizens are now taking sides and filling their screens with voices that only reflect their own political opinions.

To investigate the effect this split will have on America’s political future, Cyndy spoke with John Bebo, the President and CEO of The Center for Michigan and Michigan Radio’s News Director, Vincent Duffy.

Brought on largely by social media, the campaign’s omnipresence has exhausted nearly every voter. According to Duffy, however, this year’s campaign is no more aggressive than those of the past.

“I don’t think that it’s any nastier than past elections, if you look at the anger that many people held towards the second President Bush in those campaigns and the horrible things that were said about candidates in the last race. What makes it feel different this time is that this is the first presidential race where social media has been so prevalent in our lives. Even in our leisure time we are being bombarded with partisanship. And we’re seeing more partisanship from our friends than we’re used to seeing,” said Duffy.

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have given the race a heightened sense of partisanship, allowing any user to voice his or her political opinion. It is here that the new tension has occurred--between friends and families, rather than between the two candidates.

“I think 2000 was the election year where we saw heightened partisanship where the presidential race was decided essentially by the Supreme Court. That kicked off a new wave of hyper-partisanship in this country. I don’t think this year is any more partisan on the presidential level. It’s been an extremely long race. At the state level, the fatigue is exasperated by how long the ballot is this year,” said Bebo.

The seemingly infinite list of ballot proposals is something with which Michigan voters are well aware. But the sport of the race, according to Duffy, is never easy to digest.

“We are in an era where politics is a sport. It’s a game where compromise is seen by many people on both sides as a dirty word. If you look historically at this country, this is not new. There was no time in our nation’s history where polite campaigns took place,” said Duffy.

When asked for a possible solution to the divide, Bebo was conflicted.

“I don’t know what is going to bring us together as a people or what will ultimately split it as a nation,” said Bebo.

By surrounding oneself with likeminded viewpoints, says Duffy, it becomes hard to sympathize with people with different views.

Both Bebo and Duffy addressed possible achievements that could be made within Congress and at the state level when such bipartisanism exists.

“If you are seen as a legislator who is willing to compromise, you lose the primary to someone who promises they will not compromise. We have seen through the way that redistricting is done in many states that you have districts where people are sent to Congress by courting the extreme to either the right or left depending on which way their district is drawn. So you get people in Congress who refuse to compromise and are always thinking about that next election,” said Duffy.

“A similar dynamic is at play in the Michigan Legislature. The state political parties are not grassroots parties, these are big businesses. If you look at the Michigan legislature, if you look at those 11o races, only about a quarter of them are competitive. Most of those races have been decided by redistricting. Both parties are complicit in making sure many of the races are not competitive. You see both parties running to the extremes in the August primaries in order to court the base,” said Bebo.

Duffy and Bebo then reflected on the necessary challenge of having to acknowledge opposing viewpoints and opinions.

“Many people call because they believe they have heard bias. Usually when they are calling to complain about bias their real complaint is that we did not demonstrate the bias that they would have demonstrated had they the opportunity to do the story. The calls that I find frustrating are the individuals who call and are angry that we are refusing to cover something that they know is true because they got an email about it from a cousin and they are talking about something that is not true,” said Duffy.

But is the media entirely to blame for this bias?

“One of my biases is from a print perspective; I think in Michigan, our traditional newsrooms have done an extraordinary job covering the issues and the candidates. They are doing more with less and they deserve a lot of credit for that. As complimentary I am to those things, I think another part of the media is to blame, I’m not sure how talk radio hosts sleep at night,” said Bebo.

-Cameron Stewart

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