woods55_Jodi HiltonNurPhoto via Getty Images_polarization Jodi Hilton/NurPhoto via Getty Images

An Antidote to the Polarization Poison

Political sectarianism, focused on demonizing supporters of opposing parties, is growing increasingly common in the world’s democracies. To reverse this dangerous trend, policymakers should promote sustainable and equitable economic growth, maintain shared public spaces, and prevent information silos.

OXFORD – In a year when some of the world’s largest democracies are holding elections, all too many are riven by deep political divisions. The headline of a 2020 study of “political sectarianism” in the United States warns that a “poisonous cocktail of othering, aversion, and moralization” is corroding collective and civic engagement and causing government dysfunction. And the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer documents similar trends in severely polarized countries such as Argentina, Colombia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and the US.

The US study found that where people once felt fondly toward fellow party members and merely neutral toward those in the opposing camp, they now fear and hate their opponents. Moreover, Americans today are more opposed to dating, marrying, and even living near someone with different political views, and are more likely to discriminate on the basis of politics in the workplace. Similarly in Turkey, almost eight out of ten people would not want their daughter to marry someone who votes for the party they most dislike. Astonishingly, the US study suggests that political orientation has become so important that people will change their self-identified religion, class, and sexual orientation to align with it.

The results of the Edelman survey are especially worrying. A mere 20% of 32,000 respondents in 28 countries said they would be willing to work with or live in the same neighborhood as a person who strongly disagrees with them or their point of view, while only 30% said they would help such a person if they were in need.