Tag Archives: Political partisanship

Hyper-Partisanship is a Form of Mental Illness

Few things are as wearisome as a rabid political hyper-partisan. Many people like to heap scorn on these people for the ludicrous and predictable things that they say, but before you join in the piling on, you might want to consider whether these people are actually suffering from a type of mental illness.

When I talk about hyper-partisans, I am not talking about actual politicians. Their form of partisanship is entirely rational and understandable. When you are a member of a political party you generally have to support your party’s policies publicly, and work behind the scenes to try and modify them. You may disagree with that, but it is at least logical. I am also not talking about ideologues. Reasonable people can have radically different ideological views that will cause them to stridently disagree with one another. One person may believe in lower taxes and smaller government while another person might want higher taxes and more government spending. Those people will likely always be dependable voters for whichever party shares that view, though they are in actuality just loyal to a policy, not a party.

What I am talking about is people who have sworn an allegiance to a political party and will defend everything that party does and attack everything the other party does, regardless of where it falls on a political or ideological spectrum. Someone who is driven by ideology will abandon a party if he or she believes its policies no longer match up with their ideology. This is what happened in Western Canada when right wing voters abandoned the federal Progressive Conservative Party. A hyper-partisan will passionately support a party no matter what changes it makes to its policies.

This phenomenon is particularly obvious in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the only two parties who ever hold power have little, if any, differences in ideology. There isn’t a single ideological issue that would cause a voter to be fanatically devoted to one of the parties. With taxes, both parties have raised and lowered taxes at one time or another. Social issues like abortion and gay rights never come up in elections in this province. Yet despite the lack of clear ideological divide there appear to be just as many hyper-partisan voters here as there are in the US, where parties have a markedly different positions on polarizing issues like abortion, immigration, taxes, and gay marriage.

What is striking is that many of these hyper-partisans have nothing to gain from their strident partisanship. They don’t work for the party and nobody in the party would ever consider putting them in any kind of position of authority. Their lives probably won’t materially change no matter the party in power, yet every day they call open line shows, rant on social media and fill up the online comments section of the CBC website.

If they had a direct material interest in one party’s success I would say it was an act, but most of these people are completely honest and sincere. They really believe what they are saying. When their party loses they truly believe the media was out to get them. When they win they think the other party’s partisans are being a bunch of sooks for blaming the media. If you are a Liberal hyper-partisan and someone from the PC Premier’s security staff shoots someone you believe it was an assassination. If you are a PC hyper-partisan then anyone who wants an inquiry is playing politics over someone’s unfortunate death. If a party leader said that sky was green there would be hyper-partisans calling open line to agree with them and say that people only think it is blue because they have been brainwashed by the media.

Hyper-partisans are essentially like people who are hallucinating and seeing visions; they see things that are not there. It is time to stop looking at hyper-partisanship as an annoyance and recognize that it is a type of mental illness. Instead of looking down on hyper-partisans and mocking them, we should try to get them the help that they need.