Partisan Polarization in the Congress Causes and Consequences

PartisanPolarization in the Congress: Causes and Consequences

Partisanpolarization basically refers to the way legislators who areaffiliated to different parties have divergent ideologies, opinionsand views. Polarization leads to many complexities in the politicalscene. Politicians often find themselves torn apart between whom tolisten to between their parties or their constituents. Thisespecially arises when the party’s view is in contrast to theconstituent’s opinions. Politicians end up siding with theelectorate because they are the ones who elected them into office(Baldassari and Andrew, 114). However, in some circumstances, thesenators might be obliged to vote in favor of the party’s view inorder to have a policy passed into law and make the party strong.Polarization can be caused by various factors.

Oneof the widely discussed causes is that, polarization has resultedfrom the changes in the parties behaviors in the recent past. TheDemocrats have significantly shifted to the left while theRepublicans to the right. The changes are believed to have beentriggered by the status of the Republican Party (Barber and McCarty21). The authors also identified the reduced level of conflicts inpolitics as another cause of polarization. They noted that, thedimension of conflict in political spheres has reduced as compared tothe mod twentieth century when parties had internal conflictsespecially on matters concerning race and region. The change isevident during roll call votes in the house.

Theauthors narrow down the causes of polarization onto two argumentsbased on the transitions in the external environment of the Congressand explanations based on the changes experienced internally. Theexternal changes discussions are based on the premise that changes inthe social, economic, and political environments have affected theelectoral motivation for elected politicians to exercise moderation.The internal explanations on the other hand dwell on the way theinformal and formal processes of Congress have transitioned in waysthat promote one sided conflict. The causes are however not inisolation of each other. They are intertwined and in most cases, theinternal causes provoke a change in the external environment thatinfluences revision and adoption of strategies, procedures andpolicies.

Inline with the political changes, and changes in the electorate as acause of polarization, the issue of redistricting and consequentlygerrymandering of certain places has been one of the causes ofpolarization. The issue of politicizing redistricting of variouslocations at the state level has increased the gap between people’sviews thus contributing to partisan polarization. Other reasons mightbe that congress is deeply divided on issues due to naturaluniformity of residents in the districts and changes in theregulations for nominating political candidates and demarcatingdistricts.

Ideally,the congress system is designed in a manner that the party with themajority legislators ends up having more power. The legislators aretherefore forced by circumstances to unite and have a common opinionover issues in order to ensure that the party retains leadership atthe congress. if legislators vote against the party’s policies, thelegislators who are affiliated to the party will be forced do go backto the electorate and vie for their seats again. Thus, due to thedelicate nature of the congress legislators have no choice than toside with their parties to avoid going through the rigorous processof unprecedented elections (Parties, 249). Parties normally useincentives and punishments dubbed as carrots and sticks to demandloyalty to members (Parties, 257) the same coercion does not toAmerican legislators since they have more freedom to exercisedemocracy and air their views regardless of their party affiliations.

Someof the consequences of partisan polarization of the congress includeerosion of public confidence in the congress’s ability to representthem effectively. The public reacts by chiding the congress andshowing a high level of distrust and disapproval.

Functionsof the congress and the House

  1. The main purpose of the congress is to pass legislation for policies that need statutory assent.

  2. The congress is also required to approve treaties that the president has negotiated on behalf of the nation.

  3. The senate must also approve the president’s appointees for key positions in the executive as well as the judicial positions.

  4. It is also the congress’ duty to assess all funding programs and decide on its suitability.

Essentially,the president reports to the congress on the state of affairs in asfound the nation, and propose legislation but the congress is still avital decision making system of the government whose powers cannot berelinquished. The congress is also not at liberty to review theissues that the president proposes (Bianco, 78). That is because, thepresident does not have the power to control the congress and forcethe legislators to assent autocratic policies, and rather, hispurpose is to keep the congress accountable to citizens and to theirduties. Nevertheless, the president can sign, decline or veto thelegislation passed by the congress which still gives him the overallpower as the ruler of the country (Hamilton, 99).

Thepresident also being the leader of his party, has an influence on thecongress as he and his party members will have a dependency and worktowards supporting their parties ideologies (Congress, 277, 279). Apresident closes the gap between the executive and the legislature,thus, his party benefits greatly from his presence in the office asit has a greater representation of its views. On the other hand, thehouse of representatives is supposed to draft bills that befit theeconomic, social, and political environment at that point in time.The House is also supposed to keep the congress, senate and thepresident accountable.

MediaRepresentation and Public Response

Thebest media publications cover a more comprehensive report about alegislator which includes information such as their law makingactivities, speeches made on the house floor, their stand on keyissues among other things. However, a majority of newspapers and TVchannels, especially the local ones, only give a shallow view of thelegislator’s conduct and dwell on other less important issues.Research has shown that putting legislators on the spot by showingthe electorate what they are doing, serves to put the politicians ontheir toes regardless of the frequency or magnitude of the mediacoverage.

However,there has not been any research indicating the public’s opinionabout their legislator due to infiltration of such information by thepress. A majority of the public is not too keen to find out whattheir representatives are doing at the congress or the senate.However, there are those who follow the progress closely and areactively involved in politics (Arnold, 234).

Differencesbetween the House and Senate

Duringthe inception of America, the forefathers of the country had a clearpicture of how the two committees were going to operate withoutconflicting. These are the reasons that the initial drafters of theconstitution are believed to have had in mind when they incorporatedthe two institutions into the legislator. The congress was divided soas to promote equality and democracy to all citizens as well asensure adequate representation of the people.

  1. The first key difference is that, the House of representatives was supposed to consists of representatives of small marginalized districts whereas the senate is composed of representatives of states who have a larger geographical area, and demographics to represent.

  2. The members of the house are also elected every two years whereas senators have a longer tenure in the office before they run for office again which is a six year period. For this reason, the members of the house are mostly in touch with the needs of their electorate whereas the senators are more drawn from the people they represent. Senators were deliberately given more years in office to ensure that they will not be swayed by the present opinions of people when making major decisions.

  3. The minimum age of running for the post of House representative is 25 whereas that for a senator is 35 years. The age differences were meant to ensure that the senators make wise decisions as age is supposed to signify wisdom (Baker, 47).

Insum, the congress plays an integral role in the government. Thepartisan polarization has become entrenched in its system due tovarious factors which can be hard to eliminate. The existence ofopposing views in the Republican and Democratic parties is usually asource of heated debates in the House of Representatives, congressand senate. The unity of party members is crucial for the positioningof the party and its power however, members should not feel obligedto honor the views of their parties at the expense of their ownstand, and that of their electorates who they represent.


Baker,Ross K. Houseand Senate,3rd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000. Print

Baldassarri,Delia Gelman, Andrew. &quotPartisans without Constraint: PoliticalPolarization and Trends in American Public Opinion&quot. AmericanJournal of Sociology114(2): 2008, Web.

Bianco,William T. Congresson Display, Congress at Work,University of Michigan Press., 2000. Print

Fiorina,Morris P. Abrams, Samuel J. PoliticalPolarization in the American Public. AnnualReview of Political Science11(1): 563–588, 2008. Print

Hamilton,Lee H. HowCongress Works and Why You Should Care,Indiana University Press, 2004. Print