Interesting juxtaposition between two pieces from this past week, “Americans’ Political Views Not So Far Apart” from LiveScience.com and “Yes, Washington is in fact more partisan now” from The Signal. The first looks at polling since 1970 that purports to show no growing ideological divide between people in the U.S. The second shows just the opposite, but among U.S. politicians. If you believe these two statistical snapshots, there is a growing ideological split among our elected representatives, that is not also reflected among the people they represent!
From the analysis of 40 years of polling results called out in the first piece “Americans’ Political Views Not So Far Apart”…
Political polarization among the public has barely budged at all over the past 40 years, according to research presented here on Jan. 27 at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. But, crucially, people vastly overestimate how polarized the American public is — a tendency toward exaggeration that is especially strong in the most extreme Democrats and Republicans… “Strongly identified Republicans or Democrats perceive and exaggerate polarization more than weakly identified Republicans or Democrats or political independents,” said study researcher John Chambers, a professor of psychology at the University of Florida… The people who see the world split into two opposing factions are also most likely to vote and become politically active, Chambers said in a talk at the meeting. This means that while real growing polarization is illusory, the perception of polarization could drive the political process.
And from the second piece, “Yes, Washington is in fact more partisan now”…
Washington has never been more partisan, right? Or is that common lament simply a trick of nostalgia? A look at the numbers reveals that the problem is not, it turns out, all in our heads: over the last four decades, Congressional polarization has steadily increased… Since 1947, Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal advocacy group, has tracked the political positions of each Senate and House member, scoring how they voted each year on 20 key bills covering a variety of social and economic issues. (Many groups from across the political spectrum calculate lawmakers’ dedication to various ideologies and causes. The Signal is merely using this group’s data because it is collected over many years and is based on the controversial votes that reveal the fault lines in the House and Senate.)
The Problem Statement
As a political, history and anthropology junkie, this is a fascinating question to me. What the heck is going on here? What happened in the 1960s and 1970s that might have caused this growing ideological split between politicians (if not in the larger society, if you believe the polls cited above), progressive on one side and conservative on the other, leading to the “blue vs red” politics of today?
If you obsess about these things like I do, you may well have your own take on this. Here are some of my thoughts at this point. I’m sure you’ll have your own insights that I’m perhaps not factoring in.