Democracy preaches that it gives voters a choice. That it does, however the choice is honed by governments and trust discrimination which drives voters to subscribe to a leading group as opposed to an individual belief system. The main reading claims, “The current study examines how interpersonal trust hinges on identification with the core political groupings in electoral democracies: political parties” (Carlin and Love, 133). This means to say that studies conducted have shown that a choice to trust someone is affected by their self-identified partisanship and thus their political party.
If one considers the seeds of democracy, notable is the fact that a democratic electoral process begins with many candidates and shrinks the pool by process of elimination through popular vote. Voters thus experience a pressure to subscribe to one side or the other once the pool of candidates gets small enough. However, if given full voting choice, individuals would likely choose their favourite candidate/party, though if the democratic process cuts their candidate/party from the running, they are forced to subscribe to the next best party and its respective candidate. This may create a false or selectively guided sense of choice, due to the societal need for being in control, and especially respecting the Western ideal of freedom of choice.
However, this illusion of choice and its reality of polarization actually affects trust between people based on their affiliation or partisanship. The studies showed that those from different political parties or those with different beliefs/views were more likely to withhold more money/tickets for themselves rather than share them with a stranger who disagrees politically. This polarized environment may cause mistrust between parties, but it does have its benefits.
While it may seem like a detriment to free choice, having a highly polarized environment actually improves ease of choice for voters, allowing them to take a political stance without major comparative research. This means that more people are likely capable/willing to participate, as well as it increases the number of people participating in the socio-political debate which starts a conversation about important topics that need to be penetrated like institutionalized social conflict. If we discuss our views, beliefs, biases and judgements, trust discrimination may decrease due to mutual understanding. However, even with our current level of trust discrimination, the polarization creates community among in-groups; additionally, impactful global events (namely the killing of Osama bin Laden in the article) can de-emphasize the importance of individual trust gaps and amplify the national identity in a global atmosphere. With the lack of competition during a national crisis, the nation might be productive towards their goals, but individuals would likely experience a forced trust in the system and lose their sense of free choice and decision to trust others.
One might relate this argument about trust choices being linked to political parties, to Molina’s paper that examines competition in anthropology. Molina draws a conclusion that suggests cooperation occurs within the in-group as well as with the “other” from the out-group (referenced from Schandorf’s “Molina-outline.pdf”). In such a Western society that demands constant productivity, cooperation among members of a certain party is good, but cooperation among different groups entirely is even more productive, as well as necessary. For example, a society that produces wheat flour for baking may have a largely Republican demographic, while the group that makes bread from the flour may be predominantly Democratic. The groups still must conduct business and communicate regarding their teamwork tasks, and must do so civilly and reasonably. This requires cooperation between groups.
Thus, our polarization may be productive on an individual level in terms of finding and subscribing to a political identity, but it can interfere with cooperative national efforts unless intercepted by a notable national crisis effort that forces reunion of mistrusting groups. Overall, the benefits of a competitive and polarized political environment are extremely circumstantial, but can benefit both individuals and entire nations by providing community and freedom of choice (truly free or selectively free) which can empower citizens to subscribe to an identity and make change based on their beliefs.