There is a growing divide in the public perception of news media. While news media aim to deliver quality information that can promote a healthy dialogue among members of local and national communities, they do so with varying degrees of success. While some remain objective, others hold a heavy political bias. In a society of partisan polarization, culture wars, and an urban versus rural mentality, objective reporting is a challenge.

As an Alberta resident and Managing Director at Global M&A firm STS Partners, Paul Sturt has seen the impact that the polarization of political beliefs in mainstream media can have on how we vote, the beliefs we hold, and how we communicate with one another. He outlines why political polarization has become more prevalent in the past decade than any one that preceded it.

What is Political Polarization?

Political polarization means that more people are aligning themselves with one side of a divide, Liberal or Conservative, Democrat, or Republican, and position themselves against one another. Naturally, Paul Sturt explains that this means that there is a shrinking ‘middle’, fewer people who will split their ticket at the polls or are willing to listen to arguments that they disagree with. There are multiple reasons for this divide and some of them have to do with the communities we live in and our localized priorities.

The Problem

In the 2019 Canadian Federal Election, there was an obvious divide between city and small town voters. Experts explained that the density split in the October 21st vote reflected a fundamental difference in how rural and urban Canadians viewed the world and the role of government in it. This is a disconnect that Paul Sturt explains is exacerbated by miscommunication.

The bias between urban and rural is often reflected in major news media, as a vast majority of networks are centralized in urban areas due to location and resources. Whether intentionally or not, these media outlets may exclude rural representation, and share a single perspective that does not resonate with the entire country. An extra effort has to be made by major news networks to engage with rural communities to share their perspectives, priorities, and viewpoints. In addition to the growing divide between rural and urban communities and their representation in news media, the democratization of information has also increased political polarization.

Technological Advancements and the Media

We have access to more information today than at any other time in history. However, the ability for any citizen to publish their own news blog, video series, or infographics have lowered the journalistic standards that we once held news media to.

Paul Sturt explains that the substantial barrier for starting a new cable station that produced news content no longer exists. The Web, Twitter, and Facebook have obliterated the barrier to entry, and have also made it easier than ever to share information widely, and instantaneously. According to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Centre, 62% of adults get their news from social media. In the world of social media, individuals are not only consuming information, but they are also producing it. Unable to legitimately verify the credibility of information is a dangerous game that we are all now playing. Both sides of the political spectrum are susceptible to this spread of misinformation.

The Bottom Line, According to Paul Sturt

While Pew Research has surveyed Americans on a range of policy issues since 1994, only in the past decade have Democrats and Republicans significantly pulled apart. Worst of all, more than 40 percent of people say that the other political party is a ‘threat to the nation’s well-being’. Canada’s results may not be far off.

Paul Sturt believes that a major driver in bringing our nations back together is equal representation in major news media for both sides of the political divide. But, citizens also have a responsibility to seek out credible news sources and to conduct their own research rather than being swayed by sensationalist headlines.