Why is Congress so polarized

BACKGROUND - Always shrill - Why US politics is polarizing

By Andreas Rinke

Berlin (Reuters) - Donald Trump is rushing from one victory to another in the race for the Republicans' presidential candidacy with rude and populist proposals.

As with the advance of the arch-conservative tea party movement, the question arises why the political debate in the USA is becoming more and more polarized - and why radical-looking side entrants like Trump are quickly moving into the front row. According to experts, this has to do with the fact that some rules of US policy trigger a different dynamic than is the case, for example, in elections in Germany. An overview:


Experts see one reason for the general polarization that has been increasing for decades in the constant redrawing of constituencies for posts in the US Congress. Actually, the corrections, which take place every ten years, are intended to preserve an adequate representation of the voters by the MPs in view of a growing population. In fact, however, the process called Gerrymandering ensures that incumbent constituencies are tailored in such a way that their re-election is secured.

So Republicans cobble in neighborhoods with Republican voters, Democrats cobble in neighborhoods with Democratic supporters. According to Josef Braml, US expert from the German Society for Foreign Policy (DGAP), the effect is reinforced by increasing social separation in US society; more Americans than before now live among like-minded people. "This leads in part to the creation of constituencies with 'super majorities' that are incontestable and therefore highly competitive within the party," says Michael Werz of the Center for American Progress in Washington.


Unlike in Germany, the parties have lost a lot of power in the selection of candidates. Instead, in most US states, registered party supporters determine their candidates in primary elections. According to the US Ambassador to Germany, John Emerson, this process tends to lead to the selection of more uncompromising candidates. Militant politicians who stand up for the core interests of one side as resolutely as possible score points.

On the other hand, those who emphasize the willingness to compromise with their political opponents often draw the short straw, says Emerson. As a result, California introduced open primaries in which supporters of all parties determine the top candidates. The actual choice then takes place between the two first-placed winners. The hoped-for effect: Candidates have to strive for a broad, cross-camp majority right from the start in order to land on one of the two top positions. That should favor moderate politicians.

Werz considers the influence to be rather limited, DGAP expert Braml even sees him critically. Because the system also carries the risk that supporters of one side will specifically support the most radical politicians on the other side, who then no longer have a chance in the actual presidential election.


Critics agree that there is too much money involved - especially with the primaries, which are easier to influence. The US is not aware of the state funding of parties that dominates in Germany. People or groups with a lot of money can promote candidates they like - or try to use huge political war chests to prevent politicians from making them uncomfortable. Big money plays a big role, especially with the Republicans. However: Jeb Bush, who has since left the running for the candidacy, did not use $ 130 million, Werz notes.

Braml sees a disastrous effect. The dangerous thing about the arch-conservative tea party movement is that anti-state candidates with large financial support are being put up in safe Republican congressional constituencies.


All of this tends to lead to the selection of politicians who are unwilling to compromise - which, in Braml's view, is a problem especially in times when US politics would have to tackle important reforms. In the opinion of Ambassador Emerson - who belongs to the Obama camp - there is a threat of a spiral of problems: more radical MPs prevent compromises. “And the cowardly spectators in their own party allow themselves to be intimidated and taken hostage by dogmatic minorities,” says Werz. That is why Americans are becoming increasingly angry with Washington. That in turn encourages the selection of politicians with an anti-establishment agenda who promise to clean up Washington. Just like Donald Trump.