Why Is Our Politics So Polarized? The New Hampshire Political System and the Rural/Urban Split

—Ben Mackillop (Mentor: Dante J. Scala)
Ben Mackillop

During the summer of 2020, I had the opportunity to conduct research through the University of New Hampshire’s Research Experience and Apprenticeship Program (REAP) under faculty mentor Professor Dante Scala. In this commentary, I give a brief introduction to the research I conducted on political polarization within the New Hampshire state legislature. I hypothesized that the rural/urban divide for New Hampshire citizens, and thus their state legislatures, is a key contributor to political polarization within state politics. I analyzed voting patterns on multiple, diverse bills from the 2019-2020 legislative session, comparing urban legislatures to their rural peers. I anticipated that rural state legislators would be more likely than urban legislators to vote against the majority opinion of their party if they felt it would help their constituents. I expected this to be especially the case on polarizing issues where different experiences between those in rural areas and those in urban areas affect their opinions. However, I found the opposite to be true. I then conducted multiple interviews with current state legislators to understand better why they behave the way they do. In closing, this commentary discusses political polarization as a broader idea and gives some insight into how polarization can improve.

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