Political divide in New Mexico: What’s deepening the polarization?

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – If it seems like the political divide in this country is worsening, perhaps it is. Politicians often say it’s time to “turn down the rhetoric” after violence breaks out. So then why are threats of political violence happening more often?

Ryan Laughlin found out the problem maybe closer than you think.

“We are attracted often to that division and that rancor,” said Jessica Feezell a University of New Mexico political science professor. 

Feezell says the division with the nation’s political elites have been growing since the 1950s. Re-drawing districts, making them easier to win for certain political parties is part of the problem.

But, there is plenty to go around for the country’s political division.

“We used to be able to go to the grocery store and interact with people we disagree with, and we would all sort of live together in this soup, and that is not the case anymore,” said Feezell. 

Through geography and culturally from what we drive, to where we shop, we are less exposed to people who think differently.

“Our divisions are often capitalized upon by media and politicians,” said Feezell. 

She says media tries to grab your attention, politicians try to grab your vote. But what is with the violence?

“When we look at statistics about public opinion polling toward how people think about violence, and whether people support violence the other party, Democrats and Republicans are not very dissimilar here,” said Feezell. 

Politically motivated violence has seen a big uptick over the past five years. The number of threats to members of Congress has shot up 10 times since 2016.

“However, we see a difference in reality, often perpetrated by the Republican side of the aisle, by people who identify with the Republican party being violent, and that is because the Republican and Democratic leadership have done very different jobs of condemning violence when it emerges,” Feezell said. 

She says in a time when people are physically apart, social media is playing a huge role.

“It communicates online norms for us. When people act and say things in extreme ways – how is it received by the community?” said Feezell. 

It’s not without hope. She says there are a growing number of people who are aware of the dangers online, and we all have the power to change.

“I would encourage people to be more diverse in their media consumption, I would also encourage people to think about how they can involve themselves in healthy discourses with people they disagree with,” said Feezell.