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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Harvard professor lands on NE for party polarization seminar

By Shameaka Jones/reporter

As Democrats and Republicans struggle to find common ground, NE students learned how the parties grew apart.

“Bipartisanship today is bipolarization,” Thomas Patterson said during Party Polarization. “The public is no more polarized than 30 years ago. The most significant change has been same-sex marriage.”

Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, spoke Oct. 23.

“We have a system of divided power,” he said, explaining how the line formed between parties because of divisions in American society. “This system is set up for compromise.”

Polarization derived from public opinion dividing between two parties, which then moves to extremes, such as right-wing and left-wing, Patterson said.

“In history, one side is strong, and on the other side, things don’t get done,” he said. “It’s a historical accident that we are divided 50-50.”

The result of such a division, Patterson said, is a standstill, which makes it difficult to get much done.

“The problem is many of us like this kind of [divisiveness],” he said. “There is a drift in audiences from the source. There is disinformation, a deliberate attempt to mislead the public.”

People are not paying sufficient attention to politics, and the level of misinformation has increased thanks in large part to the blogosphere, talk radio and cable news, Patterson said.

“We are human beings,” he said. “We accept things that are in line with what we believe in and reject those which are not.”

Many forces drive party polarization such as redistricting, closed primaries and funding, Patterson said.

“Where does the money come from?” he asked rhetorically. A “sense of paralysis” is generated by the primary sources of campaign funds — interest groups and lobbyists, he said.

“These groups are fundamentally part of the problem,” he said. “They keep the two parties far apart and make it hard to find the middle.”

Adjunct instructor Kevin Stinyard asked if the media were driving polarization.

“No,” Patterson replied. “Some of this is real substance. Some issues come into play. For instance, one thing dividing America is religion. The history of immigration is one of eugenics, which was religious in origin and used to reject immigrants.”

Another source of division is that many people belong to groups or are in situations in which beliefs are reinforced, Patterson said.

“We are less diverse economically and in workplaces,” he said. “I spend all day working with and talking to people just like me.”

Asked what might bring the parties closer, he said, “It’s hard. We could turn redistricting over to nonpartisan commissions and have open primaries [already done in Texas], in which Democrats can participate in Republican primaries. I think these are bandages. They help but will not solve the issues.”

But the days of one party may be numbered, Patterson said.

“The Republican Party is in the last stage to compete,” he said. “The future of politics will appeal to young people and the Hispanic community.”

And Hispanics have traditionally voted most often for Democratic candidates, he said.

“By the year 2025, we could outgrow this,” he said.

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