On Oct. 9, the Political Science Department hosted a panel discussion entitled “The Government Shutdown: Everything You Wanted to Know but Were Too Afraid to Ask” to explain the confusing process and its consequences to concerned citizens.
On Oct. 1, the government shut down because Congress was unable to make a decision on budgeting manners. On Oct. 17, one week from the discussion panel hosted by the Political Science Department, the government could potentially hit the debt ceiling. Three different speakers from the Political Science Department discussed the government shutdown and what they felt were its important aspects.
Assistant Professor Jordan Ragusa was the first speaker. Ragusa focused on the events leading up to this point, including Congress’s current polarization. In Congress currently, the Democrats’ ideals swing further left than before and the Republicans’ ideals swing right further right than before. “We see there are no moderates in Congress,” Ragusa said.
Polarization began in the 1970s. Because Congress took decades to become so polarized, it will take a commensurate amount of time to reverse the trends that exist today. Although gerrymandering is often lamed for idealogical splits, it can only explain about five percent of the polarization. Rather, Congressional districts have become more polarized within themselves.
Ragusa believes that what he calls the “Textbook Congress,” which uses committees and a middle ground to make decisions, has vanished. In its place is a Congress where political parties dominate the political game.
Polarization may be able to explain the debt limit. In 2004, Republicans voted against raising the debt limit by 208-204 votes. In 2009, Democrats voted to raise the debt limit by 218-214 votes. Ragusa believes that both parties are to blame for the debt limit’s current state.
Kendra Stewart, Associate Professor and Director of Joseph P. Riley Jr. Center, spoke second and focused on public perception. Stewart discussed how 85 percent of the government is still being funded because the shutdown on applies to discretionary funding. The Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, is still funded.
Public opinion of the government has changed since the shut down. In one week, U.S. Economic Confidence dropped twelve points, leaving Congress with an 11 percent approval rate. Fewer Americans than ever trust the government to handle problems; it is currently only 42 percent. Americans now believe that the top problem in the United States is dysfunctional government, after several years of believing that the top problem was the economy. Sixty-two percent of Americans think that the United States is likely to default on debt.
Gibbs Knotts, Chair of the Political Science Department, spoke next. Knotts took a closer look at the Tea Party and the Southern Connection. It is no secret that the South is often blamed for political unrest; the Civil War still has not been forgotten. But even though the Tea Party, which is often blamed for its role in the government shutdown, can be stereotyped as a Southern society, only 64 percent of the members are from the South. In addition, only five members of the Tea Party are female, and the party is solely Christian.
Perhaps individual politicians do not matter when the Republican and Democratic parties function indivisibly within themselves, leaving no room for negotiation and leading to further polarization. “These are long term problems and they’re not easy to reconcile,” Ragusa said.