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The Polarization of Politics in America

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The polarization of political views in America

Modern day media has reared its ugly head to make American politics more divisive than ever before. On the one hand, independent media has a more prominent presence which leads to new angles and ideas for those who actively seek them. The flipside is that the internet world is built to be an echo chamber of cognitive bias. Recent studies have shown that our pre-conceptions are not challenged on the web – rather, they get reinforced.

Research from The Pew Research Center confirms that there is growing polarization of politics in the United States, with consensus opinions on both the left and right spreading further apart.

All one has to do to seek proof of this? Take a look at the current outliers in the field of candidates that have announced their US presidential bids: a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, a libertarian-leaning Paul, and a (very) outspoken and often controversial real estate magnate confirm this to be true.

As seen in the above animation, the share of Americans who express a consistently liberal or conservative views have doubled over the past two decades from 10% to 21%. The median positions, which used to overlap relatively closely, have spread much further apart such that the “typical” Republican is more conservative than 94% of Democrats. Two decades ago, this number was only 70%.

Further, there is more hate and blame being passed around these days:

Growing Animosity in United States Politics

It is now true that 43% of Republicans have “very unfavorable” attitudes about the Democratic Party, and 36% of Republicans even go so far as to say that the blue party is a threat to the nation’s well-being. The feelings are mutual on the other side of the aisle as well, with 38% of Democrats having “very unfavorable” attitudes towards Republicans. This animosity of people surveyed has more than doubled since 1994.

The most ideologically polarized Americans are those that are more engaged in the political process:

Polarization is with the politically engaged

Those that were “consistently” or “mostly” liberal or conservative in their views tended to be those that also considered themselves to be politically engaged.

While the polarization of politics in America seems greater than before, the good news is that the addition of people like Donald Trump, Rand Paul, and Bernie Sanders to the conversation may help for an escape from the usual carefully-refined rhetoric. Getting politicians outside of their comfort zones is a small win for everyone, and it will at least provide for new ideas along with some popcorn munching styled entertainment.

Original graphics by: Pew Research

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China

The People’s Republic of China: 70 Years of Economic History

How did China go from agrarian economy to global superpower? This timeline covers the key events and policies that shaped the PRC over its 70-year history.

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Chart: 70 Years of China’s Economic Growth

View a high-resolution version of this graphic here.

From agrarian economy to global superpower in half a century—China’s transformation has been an economic success story unlike any other.

Today, China is the world’s second largest economy, making up 16% of $86 trillion global GDP in nominal terms. If you adjust numbers for purchasing power parity (PPP), the Chinese economy has already been the world’s largest since 2014.

The upward trajectory over the last 70 years has been filled with watershed moments, strategic directives, and shocking tragedies — and all of this can be traced back to the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on October 1st, 1949.

How the PRC Came to Be

The Chinese Civil War (1927–1949) between the Republic of China (ROC) and the Communist Party of China (CPC) caused a fractal split in the nation’s leadership. The CPC emerged victorious, and mainland China was established as the PRC.

Communist leader Mao Zedong set out a few chief goals for the PRC: to overhaul land ownership, to reduce social inequality, and to restore the economy after decades of war. The first State Planning Commission and China’s first 5-year plan were introduced to achieve these goals.

Today’s timely chart looks back on seven decades of notable events and policies that helped shape the country China has become. The base data draws from a graphic by Bert Hofman, the World Bank’s Country Director for China and other Asia-Pacific regions.

The Mao Era: 1949–1977

Mao Zedong’s tenure as Chairman of the PRC triggered sweeping changes for the country.

1953–1957: First 5-Year Plan
The program’s aim was to boost China’s industrialization. Steel production grew four-fold in four years, from 1.3 million tonnes to 5.2 million tonnes. Agricultural output also rose, but it couldn’t keep pace with industrial production.

1958–1962: Great Leap Forward
The campaign emphasized China’s agrarian-to-industrial transformation, via a communal farming system. However, the plan failed—causing an economic breakdown and the deaths of tens of millions in the Great Chinese Famine.

1959–1962: Lushan Conference and 7,000 Cadres meeting
Top leaders in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) met to create detailed policy frameworks for the PRC’s future.

1966–1976: Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
Mao Zedong attempted to regain power and support after the failures of the Great Leap Forward. However, this was another plan that backfired, causing millions more deaths by violence and again crippling the Chinese economy.

1971: Joined the United Nations
The PRC replaced the ROC (Taiwan) as a permanent member of the United Nations. This addition also made it one of only five members of the UN Security Council—including the UK, the U.S., France, and Russia.

1972: President Nixon’s visit
After 25 years of radio silence, Richard Nixon was the first sitting U.S. President to step foot into the PRC. This helped re-establish diplomatic relations between the two nations.

1976–1977: Mao Zedong Death, and “Two Whatevers”
After Mao Zedong’s passing, the interim government promised to “resolutely uphold whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made, and unswervingly follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave.”

1979: “One-Child Policy”
The government enacted an aggressive birth-planning program to control the size of the country’s population, which it viewed as growing too fast.

A Wave of Socio-Economic Reforms: 1980-1999

From 1980 onward, China worked on opening up its markets to the outside world, and closing the inequality gap.

1980–1984: Special Economic Zones (SEZs) established
Several cities were designated SEZs, and provided with measures such as tax incentives to attract foreign investment. Today, the economies of cities like Shenzhen have grown to rival the GDPs of entire countries.

1981: National Household Responsibility System implemented
In the Mao era, quotas were set on how many goods farmers could produce, shifting the responsibility of profits to local managers instead. This rapidly increased the standard of living, and the quota system spread from agriculture into other sectors.

1989: Coastal Development Strategy
Post-Mao leadership saw the coastal region as the potential “catalyst” for the entire country’s modernization.

1989–1991: Post-Tiananmen retrenchment
Early 1980s economic reforms had mixed results, and the growing anxiety eventually culminated in a series of protests. After tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square in 1989, the government “retrenched” itself by initially attempting to roll back economic reforms and liberalization. The country’s annual growth plunged from 8.6% between 1979-1989 to 6.5% between 1989-1991.

1990–1991: Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges open
Combined, the Shanghai (SSE) and Shenzhen (SZSE) stock exchanges are worth over $8.5 trillion in total market capitalization today.

1994: Shandong Huaneng lists on the NYSE
The power company was the first PRC enterprise to list on the NYSE. This added a new N-shares group to the existing Chinese capital market options of A-shares, B-shares, and H-shares.

1994–1996: National “8-7” Poverty Reduction Plan
China successfully lifted over 400 million poor people out of poverty between 1981 and 2002 through this endeavor.

1996: “Grasp the Large, Let Go of the Small”
Efforts were made to downsize the state sector. Policy makers were urged to maintain control over state-owned enterprises to “grasp the large”. Meanwhile, the central government was encouraged to relinquish control over smaller SOEs, or “let go of the small”.

1997: Urban Dibao (低保)
China’s social safety net went through restructuring from 1993, and became a nationwide program after strong success in Shanghai.

1997-1999: Hong Kong and Macao handover, Asian Financial Crisis
China was largely unscathed by the regional financial crisis, thanks to the RMB (¥) currency’s non-convertibility. Meanwhile, the PRC regained sovereignty of Hong Kong and Macau back from the UK and Portugal, respectively.

1999: Western Development Strategy
The “Open Up the West” program built out 6 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, and 1 municipality—each becoming integral to the Chinese economy.

Turn of the Century: 2000-present

China’s entry to the World Trade Organization, and the Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) program – which let foreign investors participate in the PRC’s stock exchanges – contributed to the country’s economic growth.

Source: CNBC

2006: Medium-term Plan for Scientific Development
The PRC State Council’s 15-year plan outlines that 2.5% or more of national GDP should be devoted to research and development by 2020.

2008-2009: Global Financial Crisis
The PRC experienced only a mild economic slowdown during the crisis. The country’s GDP growth in 2007 was a staggering 14.2%, but this dropped to 9.7% and 9.5% respectively in the two years following.

2013: Belt and Road Initiative
China’s ambitious plans to develop road, rail, and sea routes across 152 countries is scheduled for completion by 2049—in time for the PRC’s 100th anniversary. More than $900 billion is budgeted for these infrastructure projects.

2015: Made in China 2025
The PRC refuses to be the world’s “factory” any longer. In response, it will invest nearly $300 billion to boost its manufacturing capabilities in high-tech fields like pharmaceuticals, aerospace, and robotics.

Despite the recent ongoing trade dispute with the U.S. and an increasingly aging population, the Chinese growth story seems destined to continue on.

China Paving the Way?

The 70th anniversary of the PRC offers a moment to reflect on the country’s journey from humble beginnings to a powerhouse on the world stage.

Because of China’s economic success, more and more countries see China as an example to emulate, a model of development that could mean moving from rags to riches within a generation.

Bert Hofman, World Bank

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Data Visualization

Visualizing the Decline of Confidence in American Institutions

Americans rely on several institutions for their services and safety—but how has their confidence in institutions changed since 1975?

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Every day, the public relies on a number of major institutions for services and safety. From banks and governments, to media and the military—these institutions play an important role in shaping life as we know it.

Yet, today’s interactive data visualization from Overflow Data shows that America’s confidence in institutions has drastically waned. The data relies on the General Social Survey (GSS) to provide a 40-year overview of how sentiment has changed with respect to 13 different institutions.

Select an institution from the drop-down menu below to see how confidence has changed over time

The Erosion of Confidence

Overall, confidence in most institutions has eroded. Americans find it especially hard to trust their government: the “great deal of confidence” metrics for Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Executive Branch were low to begin with, and have declined further since 1975.

That said, the biggest overall drop belongs to the press, which saw 50% of surveyed Americans saying they have “hardly any confidence” in it in 2016. This is nearly a three-fold increase from 1975, when that number was just 19%. Of course, with the rise of fake news in more recent years, the erosion of confidence in media doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

Here’s a look at the two extremes of sentiment regarding the studied institutions, showing how the opposite measures of “hardly any confidence” and a “great deal of confidence” have changed since 1975:

InstitutionConfidence level19752016Change
🏦 Banks & Financial Institutions Hardly any10.9%31.2%+20.3 p.p.
Great deal32.3%14.1%-18.2 p.p.
🗳️ CongressHardly any26.2%52.6%+26.4 p.p.
Great deal13.6%5.9%-7.7 p.p.
🏫 EducationHardly any13.0%17.5%+4.5 p.p.
Great deal31.5%25.6%-5.9 p.p.
🏛️ Executive BranchHardly any29.7%42.4%+12.7 p.p.
Great deal13.4%12.8%-0.6 p.p.
🏬 Major CompaniesHardly any22.9%17.3%-5.6 p.p.
Great deal20.5%18.3%-2.2 p.p.
🏥 MedicineHardly any17.8%13.4%-4.4 p.p.
Great deal51.8%50.6%-1.2 p.p.
🎖️ MilitaryHardly any14.8%7.6%-7.2 p.p.
Great deal36.3%53.4%+17.1 p.p.
💪 Organized LaborHardly any31.5%22.6%-8.9 p.p.
Great deal10.2%13.9%+3.7 p.p.
🙏 ReligionHardly any23.0%26.4%+3.4 p.p.
Great deal25.8%20.0%-5.8 p.p.
📰 PressHardly any19.0%50.0%+31 p.p.
Great deal24.5%7.6%-16.9 p.p.
🥼 Scientific CommunityHardly any7.4%6.1%-1.3 p.p.
Great deal41.7%42.1%+0.4 p.p.
📺 TelevisionHardly any23.4%43.1%+19.7 p.p.
Great deal18.4%9.8%-8.6 p.p.
⚖️ U.S. Supreme CourtHardly any19.2%17.4%-1.8 p.p.
Great deal31.8%26.3%-5.5 p.p.

Banks and financial institutions have also suffered a bad rep in the public eye. Their “great deal of confidence” metric has dropped sharply from 32.3% to 14.1% in four decades.

One major exception is the military, which emerges as the most trusted institution. Americans’ faith in the military has also shown the most improvement, with a 17.1 p.p increase in a “great deal of confidence” since 1975.

The Split Widens Further

While measuring public confidence in institutions can be subjective, it provides an understanding of where Americans want to see change and reform take place.

For more on how Americans perceive different institutions and the issues that affect them, see how the public is divided based on political affiliation.

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