It looks like we’re not going to get a post-election break from politics. We’re already seeing candidates stepping up, or at least testing the waters at the local, state and national levels for 2022 races. The posturing and criticizing have begun for the next election cycle, or maybe they never really ended from the last one.

I follow politics at arm’s length. I want to stay informed at a basic level of new ideas and legislation, but prefer to not spend much time listening to or reading about politicians being purposefully sensationalistic to grab a headline. It’s easy to get caught up in bills, laws, and political behavior that we find abhorrent and rightfully become outraged. The downside is that politics can consume us and have a negative effect on our lives.

A recent study by the “Journal of Public Policy and Marketing” says that political polarization has seeped into every aspect of our lives. As a result, people are choosing friends, jobs, and product brands based on politics, which in turn is making our lives worse, according to the study. Politics are causing people to feel isolated, financially poorer, and less healthy.

As political polarization increases, so does animosity toward people with different views.

“Ultimately, polarization harms mental and physical health, financial welfare, relationships, and societal interests through its impact on psychology, marketing, and public policy outcomes,” one of the study’s authors from the University of Washington College of Business said in a prepared statement.

Incredibly, and maybe most troubling, our obsession with politics is sometimes negating rational decision making and costing us money. “With political positions influencing decisions, people may sacrifice wages, lose out on jobs, make suboptimal purchases, and disregard opportunities to save,” the study found.

Political polarization is also responsible for groups boycotting brands. This appears to be a fairly recent trend. Five or 10 years ago, I don’t recall seeing companies routinely targeted over politics and subjected to organized boycott campaigns, or at least not at the scale we see today.

The study found that “activist consumers” increasingly expect brands to help initiate their version of social change and view companies through a political lens. I’m not surprised that activists want companies to align with their ideology. What does surprise me is the number of companies apparently willing to change their products or marketing strategies to appease them.

At the end of the day, when activists feel empowered to make politically-motivated demands and politicians refuse to compromise with each other, we all lose because good ideas take a backseat to politics.

“Partisan incivility is a major reason for failed dialogue: Uncivil exchanges result in disagreement and greater polarization regardless of the evidence presented,” the study confirmed.

When politics are more important than evidence, it’s not a good look and certainly not constructive. A study last year by the Journal of Research in Personality concluded that “status seeking” among politicians causes at least some of this polarization. According to the study, “prestige-motived grandstanding was consistently and robustly related to more extreme ideological views on a variety of issues.”

That’s not terribly surprising. The politicians who often end up in the news or have become household names seem to represent the extreme end of their parties. Hopefully the trend toward politicization will reverse itself. In fact, we owe it to ourselves to help ensure that it does.

Brett Martin is a guest columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.

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