Some 27 percent of Democrats say Republican policies are a threat to the country’s well-being; more than a third of Republicans think the same of Democratic policies, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey.
Over the past two decades — and in the time since the divisive 2016 presidential election — the polarization between these political parties has grown to an all time high. A recent CBS News poll reported that 68 percent of respondents think the tone and civility in political debates in the United States is getting worse.
To combat that, Westminster College’s Honors College hosted a conversation between Josh Romney, a potential Republican candidate for Utah governor, and Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams on Nov. 2.
In front of a full audience in the Vieve Gore Concert Hall, the pair dug into how the country’s large ideological gap formed and how that might change.
“Spending time in the conversable world… is likely to make people more sociable and better able to discuss political questions,” said Richard Badenhausen, the dean of Westminster’s Honors College. “That’s what we are doing here tonight; spending time in the conversable world in the hopes that it can build bridges and move us towards a better future as a community.”
Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber, moderated the talk. Romney and Cox sat in casual chairs around a coffee table to make the conversation feel “like we are around a kitchen table,” as Gochnour said, with the intention of having an “unfiltered conversation.”
Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox was the expected Republican speaker but was unable to attend due to last-minute obligations at the Governor’s Mansion
The lecture covered topics including blame, responsibility, social media, leadership and working in politics in local versus national politics.
“Both parties try to win elections by making sure their opponents never get anything done, and that happens from both sides,” McAdams said. “And what’s happened is nothing is getting done.”
The Salt Lake county mayor joked that compromise, along with building trust and personal relationships, is the only way to making a living in politics as a Democrat in Utah.
Echoing McAdams, Romney said compromise is built into the U.S. government and is required for anyone to succeed in politics.
“I think the founders from the very beginning knew there would have to be compromise, there would have to be give and take, and that’s how our republic is set up… it really only works with compromise,” Romney said, referencing the Civil War. “In the last number of years, it seems like compromise has become a bad word.”
To create more civility in politics, both parties agreed that a reform of district boundaries and an increase in diversity is needed — and that changes at a local level are the best place to start.
Badenhausen said he hopes the event showed students that work in politics can be meaningful and beneficial.
“I think one of the negative effects of the uncivil climate in Washington is that it turns young people away from politics,” he said, adding: “One goal [of this event] is to hopefully demonstrate to young people that you can still be a successful politician while being civil and bipartisan.”