Group Polarization And Competition In Political Behavior

Powerful Essays
On Tuesday, November 14, 1995, in what has been perceived as the years biggest non-event, the federal government shut down all "non-essential" services due to what was, for all intents and purposes, a game of national
"chicken" between the House Speaker and the President. And, at an estimated cost of 200 million dollars a day, this dubious battle of dueling egos did not come cheap (Bradsher, 1995,
p.16). Why do politicians find it almost congenitally impossible to cooperate? What is it about politics and power that seem to always put them at odds with good government? Indeed, is an effective, well run government even possible given the current adversarial relationship between our two main political parties? It would seem that the exercise of power for its own sake, and a competitive situation in which one side must always oppose the other on any issue, is incompatible with the cooperation and compromise necessary for the government to function. As the United
States becomes more extreme in its beliefs in general, group polarization and competition, which requires a mutual exclusivity of goal attainment, will lead to more
"showdown" situations in which the goal of good government gives way to political posturing and power-mongering.
In this paper I will analyze recent political behavior in terms of two factors: Group behavior with an emphasis on polarization, and competition. However, one should keep in mind that these two factors are interrelated. Group polarization tends to exacerbate inter-group competition by driving any two groups who initially disagree farther apart in their respective views. In turn, a competitive situation in which one side must lose in order for the other to win (and political situations are nearly always competitive), will codify the differences between groups - leading to further extremism by those seeking power within the group - and thus, to further group polarization.
In the above example, the two main combatants, Bill Clinton and Newt
Gingrich, were virtually forced to take uncompromising, disparate views because of the very nature of authority within their respective political groups. Group polarization refers to the tendency of groups to gravitate to the extreme of whatever opinion the group shares (Baron &
Graziano, 1991, p.498-99). Therefore, if the extreme is seen as a desirable characteri...

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...roup of extreme, right wing,
"constitutionalists" who were apparently trying to turn frustration with the federal government into open revolution.
I do not think these examples are aberrations or flukes, but are, instead, indicative of structural defects in our political system. If we are not aware of the dangers of extremism and competition, we may, in the end, be destroyed by them. References

Baron, B.M., & Graziano, W.G. (1991). Social Psychology. Fort Worth,
TX. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Bradsher, K. (1995, November 18). Country may be losing money with government closed. The New York
Times, pp.16
Kohn, A. (1986). No Contest: The Case Against Competition. Boston,
Houghton Mifflin.
No Author. (1995, March 24). [internet] What Wilson has said about entering race. San Jose Mercury News Online.
Thurm, S. (1995, August 29). [internet] Wilson's 'announcement' more of an ad: California governor kicks off drive for GOP presidential nomination. San Jose Mercury News Online.
Turgue, B., & Thomas, E. (1995, November 27). Missing the moment.
Newsweek, pp.26-29.
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