Political polarization is often cited as a negative, and occasionally as a competitive positive, for a democracy. Polarization in the United States has become a buzz word that occurs often in discussion about the current political climate, both online and offline. But there are also discussions about whether contemporary polarization is as polarized as people fear, and if it is, is it a cause of erosion or is it a canary in the mine shaft? Political polarization is too versatile a condition to be prescribed blame for a lack of plurality or public trust in a democracy. Putting any causal claim on polarization will be a difficult task for any researcher.
The Pew Research Center looked into polarization in American politics, and found that people who were either consistently left or right on the political spectrum pulled information from different places, rarely mixing. Interestingly enough, the left and the right do not rely on media in the same ways, for example people on the left tend to pull from several news sources while the right cite Fox News as their major news source. Despite how they ingest media, people who are consistently left or right do not have much overlap in news sources. But it is difficult to know whether this difference in information streams causes polarization, is a symptom of polarization, or perhaps connected with polarization in a larger picture of politics in the United States.
Polarization, if it is a cause, can also lead to different outcomes for a democracy, even making it more robust, in a myriad of different contexts around the world.  Polarization is not just about less centrists in a society, but a way to put a major spotlight on how democracies fair with clear ‘us vs. them’ relations among the populace. These power struggles can be present in any democracy, but democratic norms such as plurality in political representation, peaceful transitions of power and party restraint can be strained when ‘us vs. them’ mentalities are strong. But as McCoy et al find, their definition of polarization can lead to either gridlock, democratic erosion under new elites, democratic erosion with old elites or a reformed democracy. Gridlock may ring familiar for denizens of the United States, and democratic erosion under elites matches the behavior of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, but despite the different outcomes, both cases had political leaders using polarizing language. This is either to appeal to splits already present, or create those splits in the national discourse. And democratic futures are not set, democracies can survive and even thrive after experiencing political polarization. But the factors that determine how well a country can manage polarization require future research.
In the meantime, discussions surrounding political polarization and democratic erosion, or even collapse, should exercise caution when talking about causality. Not only is the existence of a causal relationship between polarization and democratic erosion uncertain, but how polarization would affect erosion is a question that we still need to investigate. McCoy, Jennifer, Tahmina Rahman, and Murat Somer. 2018. “Polarization and the Global Crisis of Democracy: Common Patterns, Dynamics and Pernicious Consequences for Democratic Polities” in Special Issue on Polarization and Democracy: A Janus-faced Relationship with Pernicious Consequences. American Behavioral Scientist (62)1: pp. 16-42.
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This post is very interesting and actually something I have recently spent some time thinking about and researching on an admittedly superficial level. As you rightly stated, polarization can have both positive and negative affects on participation in politics and people’s perception on the efficiency of their governments. And your suggestion for future research on whether polarization leads to erosion is compelling and valid. Where I split from your analysis is in discussing the general causes of polarization among people. Polarization is a natural symptom of a democracy given its acceptance and toleration of a plurality of views and beliefs. Ultimately, I don’t think the sources of polarization in information seeking and gathering necessarily plays as significant a role in the state of polarization in a country as you suggest. Also, I think causality will be easier to assess than you suggest. A qualitative study on polarization that examines surveys on perceptions of polarization and strength of democracy indexes can be very illuminating. Obviously, other factors will play a role, but given the highly specific survey data conducted by various institutions should make pinpointing the impact much easier. In addition, I think it wise to really focus specifically on how polarization impacts voting behavior and candidate choices, as voters in a representative democracy directly choose their leaders; if polarization affects decision-making, then there would necessarily be an impact on voters when deciding between a divisive candidate or a unifying one. But again, further research is absolutely warranted. It is vital to understand the causes of breakdown if we are to protect and strengthen democracies in the future.
I enjoyed your section on the Pew Research Centers data on left and right wing people. I find it interesting that leftists find information from multiple sources while rightists typically stick with Fox news. It is difficult to say whether the lack of overlap in media information is the root for polarization in a society. However, the influence of media information has a greater impact on how Americans view politics. The media sources are meant to provide nonpartisan information on politics to inform the public so they can accurately check the government with vertical accountability. The investigation into American polarization should be an important question political scientist research in these next upcoming years to ensure our democratic institutions are strong and will withstand democratic backsliding.
Your post made it clear political polarization can have both negative and positive effects on democracy and the way citizens view their designated parties. This accurate claim can lead to further analysis of the varying causes of polarization. In agreement with your claim, I do believe polarization and the increasing separation among parties is creating turmoil within America’s social-political environment, challenging democracy. As the growing gap in ideologies between Democrats and Republicans deepens, it creates difficulty for citizens in implementing their desired policies and the government’s ability to respond to their preferences. In Dahl’s essay, he maintains it’s necessary for a democracy that citizens have the capacity to formulate their preferences, signify their preferences, and have their preferences equally weighed in the conduct of government. Yet this is difficult to accomplish with the rise of conflicting and opposing positions within our country. How are individuals able to successfully get their preferences evaluated and possibly enacted when the political parties are sharply divided in beliefs? Failing to reach compromise creates trouble and a lack of representation for citizens. 
Democracy can’t be sustained if the policies people want can’t be put into action. According to Schmitter in “What Democracy Is and Is Not”, competition and cooperation are defining conditions of democracy, leading to the efficient operation of the government. Pertaining to your remark that polarization can be positive, disagreement is inherent of democracy ; without it, solutions and decisions may stay consistent with solely one ideology. Political polarization and disagreement aren’t always harmful.
In support of the negative effects of polarization, you stated that news sources provide political insight for individuals. Your example of Fox News accurately conveys the opposition in media usage between the parties, adding to the opposing difference in the information received by individuals. This prime source of polarization in the United States may not necessarily be due to opposing media sources but does provide insight into how the partisan topics discussed influence viewers. I do believe, concerning your question of whether the difference in information sources for each party is a cause or symptom of polarization, that it’s a cause. Polarization arises because individuals in each party grow further apart in ideology, and the ingestion of their desired media’s content impacts their status. Supporting your statement, about 65% of Republicans and Republican leaners say they trust Fox News as a source and among Democrats, 67% trust CNN as a source of information.  This disparity in where individuals belonging to their designated political party gain their insight on issues on current events, creates more dramatic partisan views. Each source is biased, exclusively revealing information that supports their ideologies, thus influencing the viewer to formulate a biased opinion.
As you mentioned, polarization can lead to policy gridlock. And although Schmitter claims competition is crucial to maintaining a functioning democracy, it often makes it difficult for the government to pass laws and satisfy the needs of its citizens. This reigns true in that policymakers’ failure to agree on issues reflects the depths to which disagreement is present within the system. Each political party controls different parts of the legislature and the farther apart their ideologies become, the harder it will be for them to reach a consensus on significant political issues. Compromise cannot be attained with such a sharp party division. In support of your statement to further investigation towards causes of polarization, Page and Gilens make it clear this sharp polarization results in conflict and “If we want to overcome the gridlock problem, therefore, it is essential to understand the causes of polarization and how we might reduce it.” 
In regards to your mention of Hugo Chavez, he represents a parallel to Trump in his use of political rhetoric allowing him to exercise his dominance. Much like Chavez, Trump causes more polarization among society and divides between not only Republicans and Democrats but elites and citizens. Alongside media sources and the role Trump plays within it being a cause of polarization, the gap of power between elites and citizens can lead to democratic erosion. Acemoglu in “Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy” states that if elites hold too much power in a democracy than the welfare of the majority won’t improve, thus accentuating the dividing effect of Trump’s words on the population. 
Contingent upon what political party exercises the most power in political office reflects the policies that will be most likely implemented. This increased separation in the United States leads to a lack of representation for those involved in inferior parties. Polarization undoubtedly affects decision-making within the government, and as you noted, the clear reasoning behind why is ambiguous. Your brief look into the potential causes of political polarization suffices as an efficient starting place for criticism. The deconsolidation of democracy can be partly attributed to political polarization and its ability to further separate the American population. Determining the success of a country following the presence of high polarization relies on many factors, not just varying media sources and your post made it evident further investigation is required to determine the true causes of democratic deconsolidation and the breakdown of functioning institutions. Is bridging the gap between parties necessary to appease the troubles of political polarization in America? This question must be addressed to prevent further erosion.
 Dahl, Robert. 1972. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven: Yale
University Press. Chapter 1.
 Phillipe Schmitter and Terry Lynn Karl, “What Democracy Is . . . and Is Not,” Journal of Democracy, Summer 1991: 75-88.
 Jurkowitz, Mark, et al. “U.S. Media Polarization and the 2020 Election: A Nation Divided.” Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project, 24 Jan. 2020, http://www.journalism.org/2020/01/24/u-s-media-polarization-and-the-2020-election-a-nation-divided/.
 Page, Benjamin I., and Martin Gilens. Democracy In America?: What Has Gone Wrong And What We Can Do About It. The University of Chicago Press, 2017.
 Acemoglu, Daron and James Robinson. 2006. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and
Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 2—Our Argument. (Olinebook)