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Polarization in the Political System

Polarization in the Political System
On Tuesday, November 14, 1995, in what has been perceived as
the years biggest non-event, the federal government shut down all
“non-essential” services due to what was, for all intents and
purposes, a game of national “chicken” between the House Speaker and
the President. And, at an estimated cost of 200 million dollars a day,
this dubious battle of dueling egos did not come cheap (Bradsher,
1995, p.16). Why do politicians find it almost congenitally
impossible to cooperate? What is it about politics and power that seem
to always put them at odds with good government? Indeed, is an
effective, well run government even possible given the current
adversarial relationship between our two main political parties? It
would seem that the exercise of power for its own sake, and a
competitive situation in which one side must always oppose the other
on any issue, is incompatible with the cooperation and compromise
necessary for the government to function. As the United States becomes
more extreme in its beliefs in general, group polarization and
competition, which requires a mutual exclusivity of goal attainment,
will lead to more “showdown” situations in which the goal of good
government gives way to political posturing and power-mongering.
In this paper I will analyze recent political behavior in terms of two
factors: Group behavior with an emphasis on polarization, and
competition. However, one should keep in mind that these two factors
are interrelated. Group polarization tends to exacerbate inter-group
competition by driving any two groups who initially disagree farther
apart in their respective views. In turn, a competitive situation in
which one side must lose in order for the other to win (and
political situations are nearly always competitive), will codify the
differences between groups – leading to further extremism …

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