Embracing Polarization: Strategic Communications in the Age of Identity Politics

Politcal Polarization Evolution graph

Political polarization is a growing phenomenom in the world

Polarization has solidified as a prevailing phenomenon in today’s political dynamics, with a pronounced emphasis in Latin America and the Caribbean. The UNDP, drawing on data from V-Dem, points out an unparalleled intensification of this trend across the region. However, rather than seeing it solely as a challenge, I believe, based on my experience, that polarization offers political actors, be they organizations, parties, or platforms, a valuable opportunity to enhance their communication strategies.

Legend has it that the historic Mexican workers’ leader, Don Fidel Velásquez, known for his witty remarks, once said about politics: “the world consists of 25% friends, 25% enemies, and 50% waverers. The trick in politics is, with your friends, to persuade the waverers to join you against your enemies.” We might say Don Fidel aptly described the essence of polarization.

Different lines of political identity, whether by race, religion, social class, gender, or others, can provide opportunities to deploy communication strategies. By leveraging our political narratives, we aim to consolidate and expand our support base, while directing our message in the public sphere to capture the attention of other social groups. This strategy demands a constant, adaptive, and timely reframing of our message, backed by a nimble and effective communication machinery. Our goal is to dominate the discourse agenda, define the direction of the conversation, and maintain the initiative in the public dialogue.

In this context of identities and narratives, the current global landscape, where social media and digital platforms dominate public discourse, has accelerated the spread of polarization. This dynamic isn’t confined to one region; recent events like the US Capitol assault in 2021 highlight its reach and implications. Facing this, and grounded in my experience in communications within polarized contexts, I believe the right strategy isn’t to combat this trend, but to understand and guide it.

While the communication dynamics of polarization is a global phenomenon, in high and sustained polarization contexts, like Venezuela, these challenges are heightened. My experiences as a communication professional in that nation, transitioning from journalism to political operator, have underscored the need for a robust communication machinery capable not just of amplifying the message but dynamically reframing it to seize situational opportunities. During my tenure at the helm of the Ministry of Information, I witnessed the essential role of this machinery in addressing challenges in polarized environments.

In this context, our methodology draws from the ‘Permanent Campaign’ framework, using its workflow processes to tackle strategic communication challenges with a mindset of continuous campaigning, particularly in polarized settings. The primary objectives of this strategy are:

  • Identify opportunities for the message.
  • Frame it according to our values and build the relevant dramaturgy, meaning a unique narrative.
  • Distribute the message extensively to maximize its public presence.
  • Constantly analyze its impact.

This cycle, with its continual repetition and refinement, aims to achieve narrative dominance that reinforces political identity and purpose, focusing on tangible, measurable communication goals that allow us to iterate and fine-tune our messaging. We aspire not just to communicate but to lead the narrative in the public arena. This “Permanent Campaign” approach is particularly effective in enhancing individual profiles, cementing public roles of institutions, and broadening the visibility of entities, be they political or corporate.

In conclusion, given that political polarization is a present-day reality, we must engage with it constructively. My journey at the crossroads of politics and communication has demonstrated that with the right strategy in hand, we can not only navigate but thrive in this intricate landscape. The key challenge is to embrace polarization as an inevitable dynamic and harness its power to democratically enrich and diversify the public discourse.