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polarization

Stephen King Makes a Wish

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Political polarization is one of the most worrisome phenomena even in established democracies—or perhaps especially in established democracies. With a divided electorate and a legislature unable to compromise, the business of governing essentially comes to a standstill. And damage will be done. There is little doubt that the media plays a significant role in confirming people’s political views, forming them, and eventually cementing them. Novelist Stephen King recently had a brilliant idea for countering polarization of the media and the audience—force people to watch media from the political side that is opposite their own.

The Spiral of Extremism

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Recent events made me think about a particular chicken and egg problem: What comes first, political polarization or media polarization? And how much damage can media polarization do in a political system? The answer to the first question is probably: they’re mutually reinforcing, but the media wouldn’t be polarized if there wasn’t a polarized audience to begin with. The answer to the second question is less obvious, but relevant to all political systems where the media can tip the scales toward one side or the other, or possibly one extreme or the other.

It is a commonplace by now that the fragmented media landscape in many countries, much amplified by online media, allows members of the audience to get exposed only to political content that they actually agree with. There is so much out there, you never really need to listen to the other side. In the recent Presidential elections in the United States, this led to a curious phenomenon. The media on the right, and also voters on the right that mainly focused on those media, were convinced that their candidate would win and were genuinely surprised when he didn’t. The media on the left played the same trick on its audience. The media in the middle covered the election as if it was a close race, which it wasn’t, in order not to scare part of their audience away. Overall, one had to turn to foreign media to lose some of the bias.

Polarization and Accountability: An Unlikely Pair?

Antonio Lambino's picture

Listening to at least two sides of an argument is usually a good thing.  But when it comes to sustaining mass public action, this may not be the case.  For most people, the willingness to take a stand in the public arena, despite the risk of injury or death, requires clarity, courage, and the dogged pursuit of a vision shared with like-minded others.  If saddled with the weight of competing considerations, people might just decide to stay home.