Nebraska Experts Analyze The State's Political Divide: 'Polarization Is A Threat To Democracy'

President Trump won the majority of the vote in Nebraska, with nearly 59% of the statewide popular vote. A majority of voters in Douglas (54.6%) and Lancaster (52.8%) voted for Joe Biden. (Source: Nebraska Secretary of State)
November 5, 2020 - 6:04pm

Although one of Nebraska’s five electoral votes went to Joe Biden in the presidential race, the Democrat had the majority in just two of the state’s 93 counties: Douglas and Lancaster.

The political divide between urban and rural parts of the state has only increased in recent years, according to political scientist Kevin Smith from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

"You might even see that in something like redistricting," Smith said. "After the 2020 Census I would guess that there are going to be more seats moving towards the heavier urban areas in Nebraska because that’s where the population growth is. And that creates a natural sort of like urban/rural conflict because that’s power: numbers in the legislature." 

Political scientist Joe Blankenau of Wayne State College says Rep. Don Bacon's re-election in the Second Congressional District is not surprising despite that district's majority vote for Biden

"I think this is one example where the polls seem to be pretty good," he said.

Smith says the reason for that divide isn't obvious.

"You could argue that Joe Biden is a centrist and Kara Eastman, rightly or wrongly, is viewed as a little bit more progressive and to the left. And in that kind of a swing, purple-y district people were willing to go for Joe Biden and not for Kara Eastman," Smith said. "Or whether it was just satisfaction with the job Don Bacon is doing. I think it could be either one of those."

Erika Moreno, chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Creighton University, says polarization like we're seeing in the U.S. is one example of recent threats to democracy.

Moreno says she and other comparative political scientists tend to be cautious about reaching conclusions in the patterns they observe, but leading experts are now raising the alarm.

"For the first time in my career for sure, and possibly for the first time in our modern development of this discipline, I have seen comparative political scientists openly worried about the state of democracy and its longevity in the United States," Moreno said. "And that is indeed troubling. Because we have seen the kinds of patterns of division and polarization in different parts of the world and they tend not to end on a high note, so to speak." 

Smith and Blankenau agree there are very good reasons to be concerned.

"Some of the comments about the elections and its legitimacy that have come out of the White House, for example, are concerning and I don't think we should candy-coat that," Smith said.

But both say there are also positives to focus on.

"At the end of the day we have to remind ourselves that a lot of what happens in our lives happens at the state and local level where we can be involved in decision making," Blankenau said. "Our democracy, even though it's weathering a storm nationally, there's a lot that can play out at the state and local level that ends up being quite different."

And Moreno says citizens can punish political leaders, by voting, for not delivering on policy.

"And can make it clear to the people who represent them that the kind of hate and division that is politically profitable, so to speak, especially at the voting booth, is not something that we care for," Moreno said. 

Hear more about the 2020 election results and how Nebraskans are impacted on this week's episode of Speaking of Nebraska. Kevin Smith and Joe Blankenau offer their analysis in an in-depth discussion moderated by NET News Director Dennis Kellogg. 

Watch the full episode below: 

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