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Political Landscapes Are Changing

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sarah Sweeney
December 5, 2021

Politics in America have changed over the past thirty years and have become an increasingly personal attribute for many people; the divide between Democrats and Republicans has grown deep and wide in many communities across the country. According to a study by the Pew Research Center titled, “Partisanship and Political Animosity in America: 6 Key Facts | Pew Research Center,” members affiliated with opposing parties began to associate negative characteristics with members of their counterparts and made the political scene much more personal than it ever had been before. Simply identifying as a Democrat, Republican or a Liberal causes assumptions to be made about your values and who you are as a person rather than basing those judgements against your actions or your character. Politics have become such an emotionally charged subject that has led to divisive actions in communities all across America. As community leaders, public administrators have the ability to made inroads towards improving community relations. So when did society make such a significant change in how we relate to our fellow Americans, and why are we moving toward a more oppositional way of life?

Researchers at Stanford University studied the polarization between parties from 1978 and 2016 and found the negative sentiment between Democrats and Republicans has nearly doubled during that time and can be attributed to changes in social trends, as stated in the article, “America Leads Other Countries in Deepening Polarization.” With technological changes and the move toward social media outlets as the primary source of information and news stories, it has become increasingly simple to spread mass messages without much evidence or research needed. It is so important to ensure the messaging that goes out in our own communities is based on relevant data and research that provides information in an accessible and equitable way. Having a platform from which a person can share their thoughts, ideas or criticisms instantly, and to a wide variance of viewers, readers and listeners can also increase the growing divide in political ideology across America. Consider some of the posts that you might see on Facebook or Twitter and how quickly those messages can be shared or re-tweeted. If they are negative or not supported by sound evidence, they seem to spread more quickly and build momentum as they go. It can be easy to fall into the clickbait culture online and feed into sensationalized stories that are not often well supported; this is why understanding the communities we serve is so vital. Having a grasp on the issues and ideologies that our constituents share or experience allows us to lead toward a more equitable future. Ensuring that news outlets are providing clear, consistent and research based information on all issues lends itself to communication that builds confidence in public administration.

Changes in the make-up of communities has also contributed to the significant shift in political identities, especially in areas with existing economic, racial and geographical division. The demographics in our communities contribute to the values and ideologies unique to the political landscapes that we are responsible for developing and maintaining. Public administration is about advancing the public good through the implementation of government policy. As public administrators, it is our duty to do this with the utmost precision and dedication to the communities we serve. In order to do this, we must work together to identify our common ground and re-build our communities, rather than continuing to tear them down. It is vital to the survival of our humanity that we partner between party lines to develop a better ideology as a nation and work together in defining who we are as a people.

So if we consider the next thirty years and learn from our past, we will have an improved advantage to combat the negative speak and party line divisions that have troubled our communities for too long. Encouraging open communication and developing information platforms that provide evidence based news stories can build trust and confidence in our abilities to lead communities well. As public stewards, it is our duty to advance our local and national communities toward a more just and stable future so that all generations yet to come have a safe world to live in that respects and understands their political affiliations on a basic level and guides government relations equitably. It is up to us now, today, to improve the field for all those to follow.

Author: Sarah Sweeney is a professional social worker and public administrator in Washington State. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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