Political polarization in the U.S. is at its highest level in decades. This isn’t surprising, especially in the wake of the recent presidential election.
It’s hard to go on social media, much less cable news these days and not see reports that support one political side and vilify the other. Is there any hope for bringing the country closer together? We think so.
In a recent study, we found that the way information is presented can influence political polarization. When it is presented in a way that engages people in an objective analysis of the information at hand, political polarization can decrease. Yet when the same information provokes people to think about their relevant political preferences, people remain polarized.
In other words, people might moderate their views when they have more information on how a contentious policy works, but not if they’re busy thinking about what they want or why they want it.
On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. I say “sworn in,” rather than “assume the presidency,” because, under Section I of Article II of the US Constitution, Trump cannot actually become president unless he takes an oath of office, publicly committing himself to uphold the Constitution and perform to the best of his ability while in office. That is, of course, the case for all presidents. But, given how Trump comported himself during the campaign, it is particularly meaningful in his case.
Until now, Trump has made no effort to behave in an honest or reliable way. Technically, he didn’t have to. The US does not require any sworn statements from the men and women who run for president, nor does it have any enforceable code of behavior or constraints on the kind of rhetoric that can be used. Candidates may conduct themselves however they see fit.
This approach is based on the assumption that we can trust the candidates’ judgment. People seeking the country’s highest office should know how to balance the political imperative of winning votes with a sense of responsibility for the feasibility of – and reasoning behind – their policy promises.
By and large, experience has vindicated this view. The US has had the good fortune of choosing largely from among presidential aspirants who adhere to generally accepted norms. With Trump, it seems that fortune has turned into bankruptcy.
The popular vote winner is poised to lose the presidency in the electoral college on Dec. 19, and calls are widespread to replace the college with a national popular vote. That proposal will go nowhere: Amending the Constitution is too difficult, and getting a Supreme Court judgment against the electoral college is almost as fraught. It doesn’t help that a direct presidential election is perceived as benefiting Democrats, and Republicans are ascendant at both the state and federal levels.
A simple reform, however, might go a long way toward reducing objections to the electoral college without introducing a partisan bias.
Our alternative would preserve the current arrangements for assigning electoral votes to individual states. As required by the Constitution, each state’s total electoral vote would be based on the size of its delegation in the House of Representatives (determined by population) and in the Senate (every state gets two). In most states, electoral votes are finally awarded on a winner-takes-all basis. We propose instead that electoral votes be awarded in direct proportion to each candidate’s share of the states’ popular vote.
There is little doubt that the Trump Administration aims to undermine, defund, and repeal much of the progressive agenda. However, progressives have one crucial move they can play to avoid four years of devastating policymaking: using Trump’s own voters against him.
Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory was in no small part due to the support of voters who suffered immensely during the Great Recession and who have still not recovered. Two thirds of all voters thought that their personal financial situation was the same or worse than four years ago and in Wisconsin, where Trump achieved an unexpected victory, the majority of voters believed that the economy was the top issue, despite official indicators of an improving job market.
Trump now faces a paradox. Many of the core elements of his agenda—loosening financial regulation, gutting health care reform, bashing immigrants, attacking unions, undermining the Fair Labor Standards Act—will actually damage the struggling workers and families he pledged to protect. Many of these people voted for Trump in hopes he’d fulfill that promise –even as his policies would do the opposite. So while the Trump Administration may be driven by its ideology to follow through on these proposals, its ultimate success depends on support from voters who would suffer under them.
According to Democracy Index of The Economist magazine, today about 47% of the countries are democratic; 53% are either authoritarian or are a hybrid of democratic and authoritarian regimes. The election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States must have given an electric jolt to that non-democratic 53% of the world. Authoritarians cheered. Vladimir Putin was among the first to call to congratulate and so did President Xi Jinping of China.
In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Eric Li, a Chinese venture capitalist, who rose to prominence for his fierce defense and assertion of the superiority of the Chinese political system, wrote that many people in China supported Trump’s candidacy. Trump, Mr. Li argues, is a business pragmatist and will engage with China without what he calls “the shackles of ideology”—i.e., an ideology of democratic and liberal values. This would be good for China.