Educating the Public on Evidence-based methods for improving inter-group civility.

Posts Tagged polarization

American Values and Polarization: Blame our Leaders?

It’s a question that keeps coming up.  Are the American people polarized or is polarization confined to a political elite? (see most notably the Abramowitz-Fiorina debate).

With the recent American Values Survey in hand Don Baer and Mark Penn favor the latter, bolding proclaiming that blame for our crippling polarization “falls squarely on our political leaders.”
The story goes something like this: The old school culture wars are kaput. No longer are we riven by religion. Social values are not so divisive. Abortion and the second amendment aside, we now have much in common:

According to the poll, large majorities of Americans now say that contraception, interracial marriage, sex education in schools, unmarried cohabitation, stem cell research, gambling, and divorce are morally acceptable. Even pre-marital sex and having children out of wedlock are morally acceptable to the majority of Americans under 65, and homosexuality is morally acceptable to the majority under 45. While marijuana is still about a draw (47 percent morally acceptable to 51 percent morally objectionable), for the most part what used to be "counterculture" is now, simply, culture.

Baer and Penn add that most of us distrust big corporations and are disturbed by wealth inequality. And then “over 80 percent of Americans say that if we want to regain our unity, we need to shrink the gap between rich and poor.”

Furthermore, according to the survey and our two interpreters, we feel that those who are elected are just fronting for the rich.  And only 40% believe the wealthy got that way by working harder:

No, Americans aren't feeling divided by a failure to agree on a set of common values; they feel divided by the failure of our civic and corporate leaders to represent those values themselves. In perhaps the clearest indication of our ambivalence toward our public leaders, President Barack Obama is called out in this poll as both the most divisive and the most unifying force in the country.

Uh, but why does the blame fall squarely on our leaders? Last time I checked they had to be voted in whether directly or through negligence. And maybe those aforementioned values aren't the problem–politics will forever find and inflame the contested territory.  But the thing had a happy semblance of plausibility up until the “clearest indication of our ambivalence…”  Is it ambivalence or polarization?  I guess it has to be ambivalence if the authors’ thesis is to hold.

Maybe it doesn't. If indeed the poll holds it will be shown in deed–at the polls, no? I am curious to discover if this Great Center votes accordingly and or enough; or at all.

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Measuring State Polarization

Boris Shor and Nolan McCarty have produced a graph showing the polarization of the states compared to Congress. It's seems clear enough that polarization is a real problem in many states but breaking down ideology at the state level has proven tricky. As Shor points out:

…each state in its own way is rather unique. Massachusetts Republicans aren’t the same as Texas Republicans; the same is true for each state’s Democrats. Nor do they vote on the same things.

Eyeing the graph it appears that around 30 states are either equally polarized or more polarized than Congress. Worth noting is that ideological polarization does not necessarily translate into gridlock. The key in-grid-ient is party parity; e.g., California is polarized to a degree that our hyper-partisan Congress can't hope to match but because Democrats dominate so thoroughly the government least according to Democrats.

Be that as it may we must bid Shor and McCarty safe traveling as they venture forth for the Rosetta Stone of state polarization:

All in all, polarization varies fairly dramatically across states.  The natural question is: why? Nolan McCarty and I–along with some coauthors–are engaged in a number of different research projects to try to answer that very question, as are a number of other scholars.

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Millennials: Not Immune to Extreme Partisanship

For those who once had hope that millennials were less susceptible to hyper-partisanship, the latest survey from the Harvard institute of Politics comes as another blow.  In October 2010 Obama's approval rating was 79% among Democrats, 18% among Republicans.  A year later it was 87% and 12% respectively. It now stands at 86% and 10%. 

Thus it's no surprise that on policy matters the survey reports a "significant hardening of views":

From immigration to government spending to views on morality, the divide between political parties, even among our youngest voters, is stark. For example, in the Spring of 2010 Democrats were three points more likely than Republicans to agree that recent immigration into the U.S. “has done more good than harm” — and today they are nine points more likely. In 2010, Republicans were 13 points more likely to disagree with that statement, today they are 27 points more likely to disagree.

For responses to the survey see this NYT piece and also this one in  National Journal

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Ever Redder More Truly Blue: The Fate of States

Fred Hiatt laments the state of the states of the nation. We are out of sorts because we are in sorts.  The states' polarized takes on abortion, gays, and guns have us living in different worlds. Only a few purple states remain:

In 2012, only four (Florida, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina) were decided by five percentage points or fewer.

Disturbed though he be there is hope that attitudes and populations may shift:

The migration of foreign-born families into the heartland, for example, may help make immigration reform more achievable than it would be if immigrants were clustered only in traditional coastal cities. And, as Third Way’s Matt Bennett pointed out to me, polls show voters often are more moderate than their politicians, even in deep blue or bright red states.

[Compare this recent post   where I quote Samuel Abrams (via Bill Keller) to the effect that at the state level highly engaged elites are the polarizers.]

Hiatt doesn’t think redistricting will help the national elections so much:

And while congressional gerrymandering amplifies the effect of the division, even fair redistricting would not bridge the chasm, as Rob Richie explained in a Post op-ed last fall. (Richie’s solution: Create multi-member House districts, so that the minority party in any given region could elect at least one out of three legislators.)

[But then Thomas F. Schaller believes single-member districts are here to stay. The map itself is the problem.]

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