Professionalism Series: Political Polarization

Dr. Dubose Kapeluck, Professor of Political Science and chairman of the Department of Political Science at The Citadel, spoke to Charleston School of Law students today about the growing political polarization in the United States. The event was hosted by the Second Amendment Association and is part of the law school’s Professionalism Series.

Dr. Kapeluck said gun control, economy, abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, taxation, and environmentalism are contributing factors of growing polarization in the U.S.

Data reveals that the political climate has become more divisive than almost any other period in American history. According to a Pew Research study conducted in 2014, the disparity between the average Democrat and the average Republican is at its highest since the Civil War.

A second, and more recent study, on the growing chasm between political parties, was released by Brown University last year, stated: Political polarization among Americans “has grown rapidly in the last 40 years … a phenomenon possibly due to increased racial division, the rise of partisan cable news and changes in the composition of the Democratic and Republican parties.”

What is the cause of political polarization?

Dr. Kapeluck pointed to a series of factors that are potential contributors to the growing polarization including gun control, economy, abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, taxation, and environmentalism.

“Something big happened in which sets off a big change,” added Kapeluck. “When President [Lyndon] Johnson signed into the law The Voting Rights Act in 1965, it set off a chain of events.”

According to Kapeluck, the data reveals a clear strengthening of partisan politics that “… started in the mid to late 60s and really took over in the 70s,” he said. “The biggest factor is the rise in income inequality.”

Dr. Kapeluck’s teaches courses in urban politics, legislative process, public opinion, and public policy at The Citadel. He is the co-editor of Presidential Elections in the South: Putting 2008 in Political ContextA Paler Shade of Red: The 2008 Presidential Elections in the South, and Second Verse Same as the First: The 2012 Presidential Election in the South.

Professor William A. Merkel, an Associate Professor at the Charleston School of Law and faculty sponsor for the Second Amendment Association, believes political polarization is directly impacting the legal industry.

Professor Merkel reflected on the political, legal, and social change in the aftermath of the 1992 riots in Los Angeles that resulted in the beating of Rodney King by members of the LAPD.

“Can’t we all just get along?” Merkel asked rhetorically. “In the grand sweep of American history, we often don’t get along at all.”

“People in this room will disagree, but we tend to perceive those with whom we disagree as either blind to reality or not engaged in a good faith effort to address the most pressing problems of the day.”

How might we respond to political polarization?

Polarization, political or otherwise, can stir emotions and create a contentious climate. Professor Merkel seized the moment to acknowledge the human element and how it can impact the greater good. He used the opportunity to challenge students and offer a hopeful solutions to address the growing concern of our social climate.

“I’m not a political scientist. I am not a numbers cruncher,” said Professor Merkel. “My perspective on polarization and popular constitutional politics, not so much voting behavior in legislative bodies, but I’d like to think I should say that reconciliation is feasible. We can disagree about this-and-that, but we agree on more things. It might lead to meaningful legislation.”

RECOMMENDED READING AND RESOURCES

CHARLESTON SCHOOL OF LAW QUICK FACTS

The Charleston School of Law is an ABA-accredited law school nationally recognized for its student-centric culture. Our faculty and staff are committed to preparing you for success both in the classroom and in the legal profession.

  • The Princeton Review ranks Charleston School of Law professors second in the country for faculty accessibility (2021)
  • Charleston School of Law faculty ranked among the top of The Princeton Review’s list of Best Professors in the nation (2016-2018)
  • Experiential Learning: Charleston School of Law students have access to about more than 150 externship sites, creating opportunities for experiential learning in the legal field.
  • Community Service: Charleston School of Law students have performed more than 241,000 community service hours (2004-current).
  • Students have won the National Tax Moot Court Championship for seven consecutive years (2012-2018)

Related stories from the Charleston School of Law

Lederman speaks at Paleontology event

The Paleontology Law Coalition at Charleston School of Law welcomed Georges Lederman, Special Counsel at Withersworldwide to lead a presentation on the subject, “How to Dig Your Way into the Career You Want.”

Read More »