Political Polarization in the Time of Outrage Tactics

April 25, 2019

As the threshold for the 2020 elections approaches, the growing political divide between the Republican and the Democratic parties casts a shadow over the next generation of American voters. It also calls into question the influence that outrage tactics have on the future population.


 Photo: Sebastian Pichler on Unsplash 


Integration of Technology


Political polarization was initially fundamental to the United States’ growth as a nation. The divided ideologies acted as a catalyst, allowing juxtaposing beliefs regarding the United States to shape how citizens wanted the nation governed. However, as the United States turned a corner into the 21st century, the integration of mass media into the foundations of political campaigns allowed candidates to influence the population on a far more eclectic scale. Facebook was a staple of the 2012 elections--primarily utilized to encourage grassroots fundraising--but the same social media platform that was initially used to garner campaign funds in 2012 was quickly transformed by 2016 to become host to a different type of campaign tactic: outrage.


Basics of Outrage Tactics


Outrage tactics are not unique to the 21st century; the origin is predominantly marked by the 18th century when libel lawsuits were an increasingly common phenomenon. Most recently, however, the gap in political ideologies has fostered an environment where outrage tactics are utilized by both parties to misrepresent what the opposing platform stands for.


Feminism has arguably been the most targeted cause for perpetrated outrage, evident by social media posts claiming women want Santa Claus and crosswalk icons to be female. These are manufactured stories, advertised in an attempt to discredit what feminism actually stands for and indicative of the ever-widening gap between the parties. Feminism is not relegated to the Republican or Democratic party; but when a Democratic candidate advocates for feminism, outrage tactics against feminism can be employed to outline that the candidate is one whose platform is comprised of insignificant issues such as making Santa Claus female.


Factoring Into Gen-Z


The role of Gen-Z is rapidly impending as 2020 brings with it the new wave of voters. Apart from being the youngest generation of voters, Gen-Z is also the most technologically adept generation and therefore is exposed to the most amount of outrage tactics on social media. The hostility of the growing political gap entails targeted outrage approaches from each side to the other, with newer Gen-Z members caught in the middle. People derive their political identity through what they observe around them, and mass onslaughts of marginalization-driven campaigns can twist someone who is not yet politically fluent into believing lies regarding the parties. Occasional Democratic campaigns have claimed Republicans are racist, whereas a Republican campaign asserts that Democrats prioritize feelings over the good of the country.


Both parties assert equally legitimate beliefs. Yet with the rise in outrage tactics from both sides, Gen-Z voters may be falsely coerced into believing lies about the other party. It should also be noted that the adolescent years are the time when individuals discover their identities; and as such, they are the most influential time of someone’s life. Mass media, academics, home life, and a myriad of additional circumstances factor into how a person politically leans. And with the onslaught of false tactics painting out each side to be immoral, Gen-Z voters--who will shortly be deciding the future of America’s leadership--are left at the mercy of outrage tactics, potentially unable to discern the stereotypes of Republicans and Democrats from a party’s actual platform.



Colleen is an avid journalist and sophomore at Langley High School in McLean, Virginia. Apart from playing viola and competing in Model United Nations, Colleen additionally pursues ways to intertwine her journalistic passions with mental health advocacy for more integrated awareness. Outside of school, she serves as a Mentor for Global Classrooms DC and advocates for the International OCD Foundation.

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