The Great Divide

We have a long history of political partisanship in this country.  In George Washington’s Farewell Address, he warned “the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.” Our first President experienced the dangers of political partisanship first hand. He reluctantly decided to serve a second term after heated disputes between the Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the Democratic-Republican Party, led by Thomas Jefferson, threatened to tear apart the newly formed union.

In our time of 24-hour news cycles, the proliferation of targeted news and programming, and seemingly unlimited access to information and opinion on the internet, the political partisan divide continues to widen. We all tend to seek out and remember information that supports pre-existing attitudes and beliefs, which effectively reinforces those beliefs. The result is a divided country. As shown in the exhibit, the job approval rating for President Trump is 80% higher for Republicans than for Democrats…the largest gap in six decades.

Unfortunately, hyper-partisanship has also affected how we think of others. Research by Alexander Theodoridis and James Martherus finds that 77% of respondents considered their political rivals to be less evolved humans than members of their own side. Surveys also suggest that Americans find their opponents extremely disagreeable. No wonder Republicans and Democrats struggle to find common ground.

This divide seems to be attributable to human nature. In a new book by the political scientist Lilliana Mason, Uncivil Agreement, Ms. Mason describes psychology experiments that prove people have an urge to belong to exclusive groups (like a political party), and to affirm their membership by beating other groups.  In one experiment, members of randomly selected groups were asked to share a pile of cash between their group and a rival group. They were given two alternatives: to split the total in half, or to take less than half themselves while handing an even smaller amount to their rival group. Participants preferred the second option. Winning was more important than the common good, and even more important than receiving a greater amount themselves.

Groucho Marx once said, “All people are born alike – except Republicans and Democrats.” We consider ourselves very fortunate to have both Republicans and Democrats as clients. Our clients come from across the political spectrum. We have come to know and understand our clients, as well as their strongly-held beliefs. We like and care deeply for so many of our clients, and as a result we are more open to different thoughts and opinions. We take pride in educating and providing sound financial advice to our clients, but often learn from our clients as well.

Political partisanship has arguably become a real problem for our democracy.  We will do our small part to bring civilized discourse and mutual respect to political debate.  Our democracy requires and deserves that. As Winston Churchill once said, “Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

The foregoing information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that it is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Steven Criscuolo and not necessarily those of Raymond James.

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