The recent introduction of vaccine mandates to states and workplaces across the United States has only served to further the political polarization in the country, pushing it into the direction of democratic erosion. Many citizens are losing faith in the government to protect them and gathering distrust for the institutions that make the United States a democracy.
In the early stages, with lockdowns being put into place across the nation, many viewed the precautions towards the COVID-19 pandemic as completely necessary, while others saw them as an attack towards their personal freedoms. With the exponential spread of the disease also came the cure, a vaccine, which was made available to the public in early 2021. In September 2021, President Joe Biden (D), enstated a federal mandate for all businesses with over 100 employees to require these employees to be vaccinated, or regularly show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. This mandate, along with several other state or city-wide mandates, has presented another issue for the American people to be divided over, causing harmful effects to the American democracy.
Polarization has plagued American democracy for several decades now, however, we have seen a dramatic increase in its presence during the era of technology and constant stream of information from media. This is due to politics appearing seemingly everywhere on the Internet, as well as the large amount of misinformation being spread through these platforms. Many citizens on the left or the right find themselves in repetitive cycles of information or misinformation that pertain to their own beliefs, further solidifying them into their parties. When one is fully committed to their party, this tends to cause their beliefs to entirely align with said party, even on issues that are seemingly unrelated to each other, or even non-political. For example, a public health issue such as a COVID-19 vaccine mandate would appear to be non-partisan (and is so, in other democracies like Canada or Italy), however, the statistics in the United States show otherwise. While nearly 90% of Democrats in America claim to be vaccinated, less than 50% of Republicans claim the same status. Some refuse the vaccine because they don’t trust it, some are worried about how quickly it was created, and others simply believe it is an unnecessary measure for them to take. The explanation for this vaccination gap varies from person to person, but those who refuse to be vaccinated are for the most part solidified in their decisions and have made it political.
The inclusion of politics into issues that are not inherently political has been an extremely toxic force on the United States in the past few years. As people become more engrained into their parties, they proceed to lose respect or understanding for the other party. The politicization of vaccine mandates has only accelerated this process. Members of both parties place more importance on their voting behaviors and drive these behaviors closer to their party lines. They may lack a desire to cooperate with one another, even on a federal level within Congress. When the Senate and the House of Representatives are dominated by different parties and gridlocked, they are oftentimes unable to enact legislation and to complete the tasks of an effective democracy. Severe polarization regarding vaccine mandates also contributes to a lack of trust in the government, no matter which party has been in power during this time, another poor sign for a democracy. Initially, many Democrats felt as though President Donald Trump was not taking the pandemic serious enough and found themselves extremely unhappy with his leadership. Distrust in the government, however, has been fostering on both sides of the political spectrum. Many Republicans who also serve as populists have begun to view those making decisions regarding the pandemic as elites who are exerting too much power onto the people. Populism can be defined as an ideology which prioritizes appealing to average citizens of a country. Populists place a strong emphasis on the idea of priviliges being granted to the common people rather than the elites of a society. They feel as though they are being demanded what to do by those in positions of authority, and their freedoms are being excessively curtailed. This idea of anti-elitism can be very dangerous to a democracy, especially in a country so polarized. Populism can oftentimes coincide with anti-pluralism, or a belief that there should not be multiple parties but rather just simply the people and the elite. Republicans feel so strongly attached to their own beliefs that many to this day still refute Joe Biden’s election and claim that it was rigged. In a democracy, trust in the electoral process and peaceful transitions of power are two fundamental values that make it successful. Countries which are able to hold free, fair, and accepted elections are those which thrive democratically in the long-term.
In conclusion, the vaccine mandates in the United States have become another stance to foster more polarization amongst Republicans and Democrats and have subsequently been harmful to many democratic aspects of the country. Many citizens are displaying a lack of trust in the government, refuting election results, and refusing to cooperate with those who hold opposing beliefs to them. All of these traits are those of a failing democracy, or at least one heading towards failure. For the United States to repair itself democratically, there needs to be a decrease in the politicization of non-political topics to serve as a way for citizens on either side to reconnect again and continue building a strong democracy.
Great post overall; I think that you did a great job in sharing the bizarre reasoning for bipartisanship when it comes to the wellbeing of the population of the United States. I strongly agree with your statement that “Severe polarization regarding vaccine mandates also contributes to a lack of trust in the government, no matter which party has been in power during this time, another poor sign for a democracy.” This quote is incredibly telling because, during the conclusion of Donald Trump’s presidency, many running on the Democratic side said they did not feel as though they could trust the president to head the production of a vaccine so quickly. Kamala Harris questioned Trump’s reasoning for wanting to have a vaccine so fast, and many of her followers repeated the same. Harris’ statements on the vaccine’s reliability were in the middle of 2020. Now when 2021 came around, and President Biden had been elected as president, the talk seemingly switched sides regarding the vaccine. Even though Donald Trump had stated he had complete trust in the vaccine, many of his followers continued to mistrust the vaccine and what’s contained within it. Polarization in American politics comes from both sides. It seems like everything every person elected to a national or statewide position says becomes the most politically divisive thing to have ever been said. People nowadays seem to enjoy destroying the other side of the aisle more than they enjoy watching their nation prosper.
Scott, E. (2021, September 1). ‘the vaccines do work:’ Trump says he’s proud of the coronavirus vaccines but rejects any mandates. The Washington Post. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-vaccine-coronavirus-mandates/2021/09/01/34e23604-0b6f-11ec-9781-07796ffb56fe_story.html.
I think this post was really insightful and accurately depicted the issues we are seeing with the vaccine mandate today. It feels as though ever since Donald Trump took office, every issue has been incredibly politicized and the division between the left and right has never been wider. I agree with Jack, that people will seemingly agree with whatever their party says (even if the opposing party said it first). I can definitely see the argument from both sides regarding the vaccine mandate. For republicans, their polarization could be coming from a sense of misuse of power and lack of freedom for their medical rights. For democrats, the logic comes from a collective effort, instead of an individualized one, to end the pandemic. What can the U.S. do to regain the trust of the people? While I don’t think we’re at a level of democratic erosion yet, I do believe that if the polarization continues at the drastic level it is at, we will see signs of democratic failure. A quote from Robert A. Dahl gives a warning to democracy being in danger of failing when it “becomes polarized into several highly antagonistic groups.” The U.S., as I mentioned before, has been seeing this since 2016. There have been no improvements to regaining trust, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only emphasized the issues. I think some Americans have become so desensitized by their political affiliation that we no longer can see issues as a whole. Why should the vaccine mandate work in countries like Canada or Italy but not here? After reading your post, I’m amazed at how public health is now a bipartisan issue, or that it’s political at all because it’s an embarrassing reflection of the state of democracy in the U.S.
Svolik, Milan W. “Polarization versus Democracy.” Journal of Democracy 30, no. 3 (2019): 20-32. Accessed October 24, 2021. doi:10.1353/jod.2019.0039.
This post was incredibly insightful, analytical, and well-thought out. The political polarization in America was evident far before the Coronavirus pandemic but when the topic of vaccination came to the surface, these polarizations became deeper and deeper. Your insight of this polarization being a factor of American democratic erosion is poignant and valid, with two distinct sides, how will there ever be nationwide consensus and accurate representation? My first question to you lies in if you believe that it is blatantly one party who is anti-vaccination and anti-mandates, and why this would be? Is it rooted within their party history? Is it new? Can it be linked to political values or is it more a religious culmination that is historically one side?
Your interpretation on the media’s exacerbation of polarization I could not agree more with. Especially with one-sided news platforms, it is evident that people are stuck in the same news gathering cycle that is most likely partisan-based, biased news that could be spreading misinformation by way of political opinion over reporting fact. However, I don’t think that COVID-19 vaccination is a nonpartisan health issue. Vaccinations of all kinds have been on the political agenda in the past and the only reason we don’t see much variation in vaccinations of other kinds is because they are federally mandated, for example we cannot attend a public university without receiving the HepB vaccine. Moreover, vaccination arguments are rooted in mistrust in the government and public health, which creates a partisan issue. However, I do agree that there is politicization of non-political issues that can and should be avoided, and your argument here is clear.
Hi Darcy, this is a great post. I liked how you tied polarization and populism into a very current event. Vaccine mandates have truly added another punch and kick to the overall fight of maintaining democracy in the United States. A point I particularly enjoyed, was when you mentioned individual’s and their party loyalty appears to correlate to their vaccination status. In everyday life, I have seen this first hand when speaking to individuals. Possibly in a further post, I’d love to see this when tied into different demographics outside of just parties. Further looking into age and race, as I have a feeling there are some pretty interesting correlations there as well.