Fellows say political polarization is increasing

Political polarization is growing in this country, said CCLP senior fellows Matthew Dowd and Narda Zacchino at a Communication Leadership Roundtable at the new Wallis Annenberg Hall on March 23. The data, Dowd said, shows that “we’re at the most polarized state that we’ve ever been in.”

BridgingDivide1 (1)Left to right: Narda Zacchino, Matthew Dowd, Geoffrey Cowan, and Geoffrey Baum

Dowd and Zacchino were joined by CCLP director Geoffrey Cowan and CCLP advisory board members and senior fellows who were in town for a board meeting prior to the event, as well as staff and students from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

“Some of it is a natural human tendency of confirmation bias, which means we seek out information that confirms what we already believe and ignore information that makes us uncomfortable,” said Dowd. “And because of our access to information now it’s much more than it used to be. It’s easier now for Democrats or progressives or liberals to access information that confirms their beliefs, and for conservatives or Republicans to access information that confirms their beliefs, and then what that does is increase the conflict.”

Zacchino said that media has also played a large role in the widening of this divide.

“News has become less a vehicle for educating people than it is a way to advance and enhance a particular point of view,” said Zacchino. “I think that’s a terrible thing for democracy.”

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Dowd, a former political strategist who has worked for President George W. Bush, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Senator Barack Obama, said he is now “vehemently independent.” He made the case that individuals can still make a difference in the national political discourse. Ultimately, Dowd told the audience of about 50 people, it is up to individuals to enact the changes in their own lives that they want to see throughout the country.

“Even though we think this is a massive country and massive society and what can we do, the power of individuals still has an unbelievable weight in this country,” said Dowd. “Even if you don’t agree with someone like Edward Snowden, the power of an individual to do something is incredible. I encourage everybody, especially students, to get involved in politics if you do not like the direction of what’s happening in Washington or California. The only way it’s going to change is if you do it differently in in a manner with which you want leadership exercised. If you advocate it won’t ever change; if you want it to change, you have to do it.”

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Zacchino, an award-winning former political editor for the LA Times, has a new book coming out about how California coming back from the brink of being a failed state.

Dowd, a political analyst for ABC News and the founder of Paradox Capital, is co-author of the New York Times bestseller Applebee’s America: How Successful Political, Business and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community.