Elections and Narratives: Ways of Containing Polarisation

In this 40-minute video, Research Associate Jasmina Brankovic leads a discussion on the links between narratives and polarisation during election periods, hosted by IFIT’s Narrative Peacebuilding Hub. Jasmina is joined by two members of IFIT’s Inclusive Narratives Practice Group, Thinking and Working Politically Community of Practice Director Alina Rocha Menocal and George Mason University Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution Solon Simmons, as well as Electoral Institute of the State of Mexico President and IFIT Mexico Peacebuilding Support Group member Amalia Pulido Gómez.

Reflecting on the range of significant elections occurring in 2024, particularly in Latin America and Europe, Alina notes that narratives have increasingly been used to contribute to divisive identity politics in election periods. Political actors tactically draw on demographically linked grievances to galvanise support, thereby feeding and escalating polarisation, fragmentation and anger. Alina stresses the role of leadership in fostering a feeling of unity and encouraging conversation across divides, while acknowledging how grievances are mobilised and manipulated. She proposes ways of finding common ground to address the needs of different social groups.

Focusing on the case of Mexico and Latin America more broadly, Amalia brings attention to the growing lack of trust in electoral bodies and the negative consequences for democracy. Narratives around elections being a facade have the power to sway public opinion and nourish polarisation. Amalia raises awareness around gender-based violence in politics in particular. She advises investing in candidates maintaining integrity and encouraging authorities to intervene when a candidate’s behaviour incites violence. She recommends practical strategies for increasing election-related regulation.

Drawing on narrative theory, Solon highlights the fundamental tension in narrative techniques used to win elections: while elections can be a tool of peace in the transfer of power, they can also increase polarisation around identity and cultural issues. Using examples from the United States, he argues that narratives about identity politics often serve to obscure inequality and demonise demands for basic economic needs, such as housing, education, health and transportation. Solon shares approaches for ensuring a shift from the usual ‘black-and-white’ narratives used during elections to narratives with greater moral complexity.

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