Exploring Possible Theoretical Linkages between Social Capital Decline and Increased Political Elite Polarization
21 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2014
Date Written: June 11, 2014
This paper explores possible theoretical linkages between a decline in social capital as characterized by Robert Putnam, and the rise of political polarization among elites as characterized primarily by Marc Hetherington. It reviews theory and analysis in scholarly works, with an emphasis on two pathways at the macro level. The first pathway uses political trust to link social capital and political elite polarization outcomes.
This paper shows that there is a theoretical foundation for potentially linking social capital to political trust and, in turn, linking political trust to polarized outcomes from political elites. The second linkage, which is supported both theoretically and empirically, is through the pathway of economic inequality. It demonstrates a plausible linkage between declining social capital and political inequity; and between political inequity and polarized political elite behavior. This paper proposes both of these linkages should be further explored empirically to confirm if causality does exist.
The stakes for understanding and “getting it right” are high for policy and decision-makers. Disparities in participation and influence could weaken the fundamental underpinnings of American democracy.
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