The 16-day government shutdown in October left hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed without pay for more than two weeks, cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars and canceled military training missions.
It also brought to the forefront a whole host of questions about how the country ended up in a political stand-off that rippled across so many facets of the United States’ infrastructure.
Who was responsible? Were there any warning signs from the 2012 election? Can’t we all just get along?
“The country elected different parties, with starkly different priorities, to lead the various branches of government in a system of shared powers,” said Scott Crichlow, chair of the political science department at WVU.
“The new Republicans aren’t merely further to the right than the Republicans of the 1990s they are further to the right than the Republicans in the 2011-2012 Congress.”
Crichlow was part of a panel discussion last November of professors from public administration, communication studies and political science that presented “Beyond Red and Blue: A Closer Look at the 2012 Elections” as part of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences Eberly Ideas Discussion Series.
During the presentation, the faculty members shared their expertise on different aspects of the election including how the election changed national politics, post-election economic problems, and how social media was used during the election cycle.
The segmentation of news and the 24-hour news cycle, panelists said, have fed into the sense that the political landscape is at its most polarized.
“The people who feel more passionate about their candidate or identify more strongly with their party are more likely to do a number of politically motivated things,” said Elizabeth Cohen, assistant professor of communication studies.
“But disproportionate partisan political participation on social network sites could affect people’s perceptions of the political climate. If people who hold more extreme beliefs create, post and share more political content online, it may give the inaccurate impression to people that politics are more polarized than they actually are. The truth is, the middle-of-the-road voices just aren’t as visible on social media.”
Cohen, who specializes in new media and health and risk communication, says that social media is helping to grow stories.
“I do believe that social media often amplifies news stories, spreading them wider, making them more visible and more memorable. I think the news seems like a bigger part of our life when it’s showing up on the social network feed that we might check every few hours.”
Crichlow, who teaches and conducts research on U.S. foreign policy, political psychology and international relations, says that the 2012 election helped open the door for the shutdown.
“It really looks like what we are seeing is no longer a fight between Republicans and Democrats but a contest between different strands of the Republican Party,” he said.
“It will be interesting to see if establishment Republican donors continue to fund both pro- and anti-shutdown Republicans, and, generally, how deeply the two sides of the party go after one another.”
Crichlow and Cohen are both available for interview. To schedule an interview, please contact Devon Copeland, interim director of communication and marketing, at (304)293-6867 or Devon.Copeland@mail.wvu.edu.