Political polarization – a sharply divided nation

It is the gorilla in the room of American politics and it will majorly influence many factors in the upcoming election, yet remains a topic that politicians do not typically address. It’s polarization, and it leaves the American people sharply divided, now more than ever before.

Party polarization in the United States has never been higher. In fact, according to Jason Husser, assistant professor of Political Science at Elon University, it is almost mathematically impossible for Congress to be as divided as it is today.

Husser, who spoke at Elon University on Thursday night along with Robert P. Jones, founding CEO of Public Religion Research International, spoke to a full auditorium about religious influence in the upcoming presidential election and how America’s political polarization helps guide such influential religious views.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, political polarization is the process by which the public opinion divides and goes to the extremes, i.e. the two major political parties in the U.S. –Republican and Democratic. Husser said that these two political parties have never disagreed more.

This polarization has trickled down, dividing the public on political issues, which in turn influences the impact that religion has on this election. Husser said that the relationship between religion and politics flows both ways, however, the current trend is that political preferences are now influencing religious behavior instead of the other way around.

There are three basic patterns of religion, belonging, behaving and believing. According to Husser, all three behaviors are linked to voting behavior in a fairly predictable way. For example, heavy churchgoers who are also white tend to vote Republican. 

The 2008 presidential election was heavily influenced by race and religion. It came down to white Christians v. religious minorities and unaffiliated individuals. President Obama captured 96 percent of the black Protestant vote and 78 percent of the non-Christian vote. According to Jones, the 2012 presidential election follows a similar pattern.

While President Obama appears to have a lock on certain religious groups, Governor Mitt Romney has an equal hold on different religious groups. According to Jones, Romney currently has 74 percent of the white evangelical Protestant vote.

Jones said the nation is divided about the importance of religion. Forty three percent of Americans say that their religious views are different from Romney’s, while 40 percent say that their views are different from Obama’s.

Both Romney and Obama have been criticized throughout their campaigns due to their religious practices. Therefore, religion stands to be a topic that is neither candidate’s strongest talking point. “The reason we’re not going to hear more on faith is that they have a disincentive to bring it up,” said Jones. 

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