On this Election Day in America, it isn't just the presidential candidates who are deemed unlikeable by polarized Americans; if Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump dropped off the planet right now, there still would be vast swaths of Americans who vehemently dislike other vast swaths of Americans.
It's akin to the intense divisions during the 1960s - amidst the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. And while there is no polling data from the Civil War, as Professor David Karol characterizes that period: “Willingness to take up arms against fellow citizens does suggest a great deal of polarization!” Karol, of the University of Maryland, believes the best comparison to today is not the Civil War but “The Gilded Age” from the 1870s through the 1890s - with its even balance between the parties in close elections, and strong party loyalties.
Some drivers of polarization remain the same, including regional differences, but others are new, such as political parties channeling the hate from the electorate; the rise of social media; and a backlash against multiculturalism.
AirTalk will devote the coming days to dissecting the different social, political and cultural factors that contribute to our divisions. Today, we start with the history of American polarity.
David Karol, Associate Professor of Government and Politics, University of Maryland
Jonathan Rieder, professor of sociology at Barnard College, Columbia University, where his research focuses, among other things, on unity and division in the US. He is the author of the book, "Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter From Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation" (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013)