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A Primer on Polarization in American Politics.


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Okay, so this is the first of several (probably very long) posts.  My goal here is to explain the current political science theories and evidence about the causes of political polarization.  It's not to offer opinions or partisan viewpoints, but rather what we know and don't know about this topic.  And this is not intended to be arrogant at all, it's just stating my qualifications to explain this body of literature...this is my major area of expertise, it is the topic of my dissertation, it is the topic of 8-9 peer-reviewed articles that I've published over the past eight years, and it's the topic of most of the courses that I teach.  Having said that, I also recognize that my articles have been cited tens of times over the years and I'm nowhere near considered one of the top researcher in this field.  However, I am extremely familiar with the top researchers and their work, which is what I'll be talking about in this thread.  Having said all of that, I also don't intend for this to be a one-sided lecture.  Happy to talk about any of this with (almost) any one and to have people challenge my posts when they think I got something wrong or just when I'm not being clear.  

Okay, the starting point for understanding polarization in this country has to do with levels of political information.  Put bluntly, most Americans do not care about politics, they are not informed about politics, and they largely don't want to be involved with politics.  There are 60 years worth of studies demonstrating this lack of political information, involvement, and passion.  The earliest works were by Lazarsfeld et al.'s book (Voting) and the seminal 1960 book by Campbell et al. (The American Voter).  No study since has demonstrated high levels of political information among the American public.

However, levels of information also vary considerably across the American public.  This too is some of the most established and long-standing findings from the political science literature.  You can think about the American public as divided into three groups.  About 25-30% of the public is very interested and passionate about politics; most of these people consume politics for entertainment purposes.  They view politics like sports or drama...it's a game and they root for a side.  About 45-50% of the public is moderately informed about politics...they might watch a few minutes of hte nightly news or glance at a newspaper or look over some article that passes them on social media.  It's not that they are interested, it's that they just feel the need to keep up with things a little bit.  The remaining 25-30% are extremely uninformed...they don't care about politics, don't want to consume political information, and a lot of them actively tune out all political information they see.  We'll call these groups the high, medium, and low "aware" Americans. [See any of the recent political science studies about this distribution of political information.]

Okay, duh right?  Why is this obvious thing so important?  Because each of those three groups behave very differently on several fronts - exposure to political information, processing of political information, and participation in elections and other forms of political activities.  Those differences end up explaining a LOT about polarization in American politics.  

I'll explain the most obvious one first, and then explain the other two in subsequent posts.  Obviously, somebody who cares passionately about politics is going to be more likely to seek out political information.  So they're going to watch the news regularly, go to the internet and try to keep up with the latest drama, and they're going to be exposed to the latest news and development in politics.  They're going to know, for example, about Trump's executive order on regulations, which only got a little coverage.  So the high aware people will be exposed to a lot of political information because they are actively seeking it out.

The medium or moderately aware people don't seek it out very much.  It's more of a casual thing...the news is on so they watch a few minutes, or they stop on a cable news channel while surfing the TV, or they click on a story that comes across their normal website like AOL or whatever.  These people aren't actively seeking it out, but they are getting it as part of their daily lives.  So they know some of the major things happening, but aren't tuned in to most of the small events that fly under the media radar.  They would know about the travel ban, for example, but probably not about the regulation executive order.

Finally, the simplest to understand are the low aware.  They don't just not seek out information, they actively avoid it.  They know very little beyond which party has the presidency and (maybe) Congress, and they only know about things in the news that are so overwhelmingly covered that they can't avoid it.  They'll certainly know about 9/11 or Trump's victory, and maybe have heard something about the travel ban, but they can't really explain what that travel ban is about.  And a lot of these people can't tell you any of the members of the Supreme Court nor even who the vice president of the United States happens to be.  

Ultimately, this means that these three groups have different levels of political knowledge because of their MOTIVATION towards politics.  It's not that they're dumb, it's that some just are strongly motivated to follow politics, most are not strongly motivated but follow a little during their daily lives, and others are actually motivated to avoid politics entirely.

Okay, that's the dry, boring, basic stuff.  Will write back about information processing and participation, and how this helps explain polarization.  But to give away part of the punchline, research by John Zaller (Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion) and Marcus Prior (Post-Broadcast Democracy) show us that it's only one group of the American public that is polarized - the high aware people.  The passion and entertainment they get out of politics leads them to choose sides, root for their side, and adopt more extreme ideological positions than the rest of the country.  This is, according to most of the studies out there, the only group in America that is deeply divided and highly polarized.  

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Information processing - how do people form their "opinions"?

John Zaller's famous book (Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion) lays out a theory or model for how people process information.  This book is considered the most influential book in public opinion.  He lays out a three-step process: Receive, Accept, Sample.  

First, there is an information environment out there.  This is the media, the party leaders and elected officials, the pundits, etc. Basically, this is the raw material of people's opinions...this provides the "considerations" that get into people's heads.  The president gives a speech on TV and explains the need for greater security measures.  His arguments become the basis for people's "opinions".  

When people see, hear, or read some argument from the information environment, how do they process it?  This is Zaller's RAS model:

Receive:  People have to be exposed to information in order to react to it.  The highly aware people are the most likely to be exposed to any given information/argument.  The moderately aware are less likely.  And the least aware are the least likely.  So this "receive" part is about who is exposed to political information communicated through the political environment.

Accept: Once somebody receives information, they must accept or reject it.  In this case, people accept or reject it based on their predispositions - preexisting beliefs, how much they like the source of the information, and mostly their party identification.  If Democrats hear Trump say something, they will reject it because it comes from the other side.  If Republicans hear Trump say something, they will accept it because it comes from their side.  Arguments and information that are "accepted" become considerations...the ideas and thoughts bouncing around people's heads at any given time.  

Sample:  When asked about their "opinion" on an issue, people simply sample from the considerations bouncing around their heads.  They basically grab whatever's at the top of their heads and sloppily throw it together into a response.  If a Democrat just saw Trump give a speech and they have two negative reactions and one positive reaction, then their "sample" is -1 Trump.  Ask that person at that time whether they approve of Trump and they will say no.

Notice that there is NO deliberation or thought involved in this model.  That's actually part of the model...people do not think about the information, weigh it against other information, and form thoughtful, deliberative opinions.  People are either exposed to the information or not, and they mindlessly accept/reject the information based on their partisanship.  If that sounds like an extreme claim, it's also supported by a ton of evidence.  [I'm happy to talk about Tversky and Kahnemann's dual processing model here if anyone likes...but I doubt anyone wants to.]  I'll provide some empirical evidence that, I think, provides some bullet-proof evidence of Zaller's theory later.

Okay, now for the polarization argument.  There is an empirical reality that strength of partisanship is strongly correlated with level of awareness/information.  This is obvious from the motivations of the different groups.  Highly aware people are passionate about politics...they have a "team" (party) and they root for that team.  So highly aware people are the most partisan and most ideological.  Moderately aware people tend to lean one way or the other, but they aren't caught up in the team nature of politics so their partisanship isn't as strong.  And low aware people tend not to be partisan at all...they don't care about politics and actively avoid it, so why would they have a party "team"?

This is why the highly aware group is the only group that is deeply divided and polarized in America.  They have a team, they accept virtually everything said by their team, they reject virtually everything said by the other team, and so they only incorporate information consistent with their preexisting beliefs.  They will be exposed to lots of competing information ("receive" part above) BUT they filter that information through their party identification.  So they adopt the more extreme arguments from their party.  So they are most likely to "receive" information AND most likely to blindly "accept" information based on partisanship.

The moderately aware will tend to adopt a few more arguments from their side, but their party identification isn't as strong nor rooted in entertainment/passion, so they'll also occasionally agree with the other side.  This makes them look moderate, but it's not a deliberative moderation.  It just means they don't care enough to have a strong party identification, so they don't mindlessly reject/accept things based on that partisanship.  This group isn't exposed to as much information, but they also don't filter that information through their partisanship.  

And of course the low aware actively avoid politics altogether.  So they are least likely to receive any political information that isn't huge, major news.  Paradoxically, this group also doesn't have hardly any party identification so they don't filter anything whatsoever.  In other words, they mostly just accept whatever their hear, but they don't hear a lot.  So this group looks the most "moderate", incorporating ideas from both sides, but it's only because they don't care enough about the parties to filter what little information they do get.

That's the gist of Zaller's theory.  It's far more complicated, but that's the main part to understand about polarization in America.  Only the most highly aware group is polarized, and it's because they are engaging in severe confirmation bias (filtering based on party identification).  The rest of America is more moderate, but that's because they don't care enough to root for a team and they don't filter based on their team.  

And here's the strange part about Zaller's theory...it makes me question whether we WANT a highly informed, active citizenry.  Because if everybody were passionate, informed, and involved with politics then the entire country WOULD be extremely polarized and divided.  

That's it for now, but I'll try to write back later with a few more implications of Zaller's theory.  One of them, in my opinion, is terrifying...the people who most approximate the ideal citizen (highly aware, involved, and informed) are precisely the ones who act like mindless robots blindly accepting whatever their side says and rejecting whatever the other side says.  Another implication is equally terrifying, in my opinion...this highly aware group is the MOST likely to believe insane conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods when they are consistent with their partisanship.  

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A quick clarification about "awareness".  I've been using "informed" and "aware" and "knowledgeable" interchangeably.  You can also add "education" into that.  Theoretically, it's possible that somebody can be very passionate about politics but poorly informed.  It's possible that somebody can be highly educated and education will lead people to think differently (and more critically) about politics.

The reality is that it doesn't matter how you measure it.  You get the same patterns regardless of whether you use education, quizzes of objective information about politics, interest in politics, and so forth.  There are small difference, but the same strong pattern emerged - the most educated are the most partisan and therefore the most likely to filter information based on that partisanship.  The people who know the most facts about politics (can name all members of the Supreme Court, veep, leadership in Congress, etc.) are the most partisan and most likely to filter based on their partisanship.  The most politically active are the most partisan...etc. etc.

"Aware" and "informed" doesn't mean most accurate.  This is what I hinted at in the last post.  The most aware/informed blindly accept whatever their side says and reject whatever the other side says.  And they are most likely to seek out information supporting their side.  So they are the most likely to be exposed to the insane conspiracy theories AND because they blindly accept whatever supports their side, are most likely to believe those insane conspiracy theories.  

So ironically, the more informed/aware somebody becomes about politics the more likely they are to accept outright false information and even insane conspiracy theories.  If you look at polls related to the birther conspiracy, it's the most informed/aware Republicans who are most likely to believe that (45-55% last I checked).  It's the most informed/aware Democrats who are most likely to believe that Bush orchestrated 9/11 (40-50% last I checked).  This is exactly what Zaller's theory would predict and again highlights that opinions do NOT originate from people thinking and deliberating about politics.

Zaller calls this "elite-driven democracy".  What he means is that the American public echoes the arguments from political elites (elected officials, party leaders, the media, etc.).  When Republicans tell them why a border wall is good, the highly aware Republicans around the country blindly accept those arguments and support a border wall.  When Democrats go on TV and argue why a border wall is bad, the highly aware Democrats around the country blindly accept those arguments and oppose a border wall.  In Zaller's theory, people react to arguments they hear from the information environment.  Very few of them formulate their own ideas and thoughts on their own. 

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So by reading this I can then assume that you are highly partisan and prone to believe wild conspiracy theories because you are very political. For instance you believe there is a Muslim ban despite the fact 87% of Muslims are unaffected.

In the information age more people are becoming aware politically and they realize they have been lied to and are looking for answers. What our leaders have told us do not match what we see in the world.

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The causes of polarization in the public -- elites and the media.

So what created the polarization of the highly aware/informed citizens?  The literature points to the strongest influence being elites - party leaders and elected officials.  Elite polarization is most often measured in terms of congressional ideology scores.  Poole and Rosenthal created the DW-NOMINATE scores for each member of Congress and has tracked polarization over the past 100 years or so.  You can see their graphs here:

http://voteview.com/political_polarization_2014.htm

They have graphs for both the House and the Senate.  The gist is that elites started polarizing between the 1950s-1970s, depending on the issue.  The parties polarized on racial issues during the 60s, on social issues in the 70s, and on most other issues during the 80s.  But the point is that polarization predates the rise of cable news and the internet, so those cannot explain the polarization at the elite level.  I'll write later about the causes of elite polarization - there are several of them - but the point here is that we can trace the start of elite polarization to around the 60s/70s.  

And that's when that 25-30% of the highly aware public began polarizing as well.  There is a chicken and egg problem somewhat, and most political scientists think there's a reciprocal relationship...elites polarize, the highly aware follow, that pressures elites to be more ideologically extreme, etc.

Zaller's theory demonstrates that we're an "elite-driven democracy" where the public echoes the input of elite discourse.  So it should not be a surprise that when the parties take more ideologically polarized positions that the strongest partisans (e.g., the highly aware) will follow their leads.  Remember that this group blindly accepts whatever their side says, so when their side takes more extreme positions on issues, this group is going to adopt those new, more extreme positions.  

Importantly, the rest of the public has NOT become more polarized.  60-70% of the public (moderately and low aware people) have not changed.  The low aware hasn't changed, according to Zaller's theory, because they don't get much information at all and they accept what both sides say, so they look "moderate".  The moderately aware has always incorporated a little bit of competing arguments, and they aren't passionate about politics, so they haven't followed elites and taken more extreme views either.  So you have a situation in America where the political parties and their leaders are increasingly extreme and polarized while the vast majority of Americans are not.  The consequences of that situation should be obvious and helps explain why Congressional approval is in the low teens.

Yet if polarization among the elites and the highly aware began decades before the rise of cable news and the internet, that doesn't mean those things haven't had an effect on polarization in politics.  Marcus Prior's book (Post-Broadcast Democracy) lays out a theory (and a lot of evidence) about how changing media environments have affected American politics.  The biggest factor was a change in the options available to the public.  During the broadcast era (before cable), people had limited choices. If they wanted to watch TV at 6PM for entertainment, they could watch news on NBC, news on ABC, or news on CBS.  So they were forced to consume some political information.

It's important to note again that the public has largely NOT changed in terms of motivation and interest in politics over the past 50 years.  Those three divisions - high, medium, low aware - have always been there.  So the low aware were never interested in watching the news, but that was the only thing available at certain times in the broadcast era.  With the rise of cable and the internet, people have wider ranges of entertainment choices.  That increased choice has affected how people consume political information.  Specifically, people no longer have to watch the news at 6PM.  They can switch to ESPN, Oprah, AMC, or any of the 100s of other media outlets that don't deal with politics.

So the low aware people, who were never interested in politics to begin with, began tuning out when they were given the choice.  Prior's experiments and survey data demonstrate that this group overwhelmingly turn to entertainment options when they are offered, but stick with news when that is the only option available.  During the broadcast era, then, this low aware group was forced to consume SOME news content, which meant that they had SOME information about what was going on in politics.  That will be important later.

The highly aware group went the opposite direction in the post-broadcast era.  They had even greater options and 24/7 political content.  So they consumed more political information.  Yet, because they are the most partisan, they also filtered this new information through their partisanship.  So they saw more polarized party leaders taking more extreme ideological positions, and saw the more polarized arguments more frequently.  This accelerated the polarization.  Moreover, because cable and the internet provided more overtly partisan media outlets (FOX, MSNBC, DailyKos, Drudge), this group also began self-selecting into media outlets that reinforced their preexisting views.  So not only were they seeing more polarized leaders taking more ideologically extreme positions, but they also overwhelmingly only heard arguments from their own side.  And even when the occasional opposing viewpoint makes it into their bubble, they automatically reject it because it contradicts their preexisting views.  So it's a combination of selectively consuming only one side of the political debates and confirmation bias that leads them to reject anything that contradicts their partisanship.  

Quick digression...how did the more overtly partisan media come about?  Simple economics, as Marcus Prior shows.  All media outlets rely on ad revenue to survive.  With broadcast outlets, in order to sell a product to older people they need tens of millions of viewers to ensure there are enough of the target demographic.  These networks could not be overtly biased because they would lose half of their viewership.  They had to be more cautious.  And broadcasting to tens of millions costs a lot of money in infrastructure and so forth.  With cable, it became much cheaper to produce political content and thus an outlet can make a profit with fewer viewers.  This is called "narrowcasting"...the goal is not to reach the widest swatch of people but to capture a large percentage of a narrow demographic.  This is why you don't see Depends being advertised on the Daily Show...that show was aimed at younger middle class liberals.  So they could take a more biased stance and make large profits because advertisers turned to that show for products aimed at that narrow demographic.  Whereas broadcast networks need 40-50 million viewers, cable news can make large profits with as few as 1.5 million viewers.  Now think about how much cheaper internet content is to produce, and you can understand why the biggest polarization and extremism in media is found on the internet. 

Okay, so to recap the situation.  Cable and internet allows content to be produced more cheaply, meaning they don't need as many viewers to turn a profit.  They can try to capture narrow demographic groups and get huge ad revenue from companies pitching products to that narrow demographic group.  That allows outlets to be more overtly partisan (because partisanship is strongly related to demographics).

In this new post-broadcast era, the low aware voters had the option to tune out of politics entirely, and they did.  The level of political information among this group declined.  And with a wholesale lack of information, and no interest in following politics, turnout in elections among this group has declined as well.  So among 25-30% of the public, we have less informed citizesns who are the least likely to show up at the polls.

The high aware took advantage of the new range of choices and began consuming more political content.  But they self-selected into the overtly partisan media outlets.  Their level of information has increased.  And because they are hearing about politics more often and getting more extreme in their beliefs, their rates of turnout have increased over the past 20 years or so.  

Marcus Prior shows pretty definitively that the composition of the American electorate has shifted...the more partisan/ideological highly aware are a larger percent of the electorate while the "moderate" and uninformed low aware are a smaller percent of the electorate.  Remember that the low aware (and moderately aware) are more moderate and open to ideas from both sides.  This means that the American ELECTORATE is far more polarized than it was 30 years ago, but the American PUBLIC is not.  The public is still largely moderate and non-ideological...they have a party they lean towards, but it's not extreme nor ideologically rigid.  The electorate, however, is significantly more (not completely) polarized than in the past.

I realize there's a lot of links there that I might not have fully explained and I'm happy to clarify anything that wasn't clear.  But what we have here is an explanation about why a segment of the public (highly aware) are more polarized and why the rest of the public is not.  It also explains why elections look so polarized even though we know that the public at large is relatively moderate and not strongly partisan/ideological.  

What, then, explains the increase in polarization among political elites that began back in the 60s/70s/80s?  That's what I'll try to write about later in the week.  Sean Theriault has a very good book that helps explain the four primary causes of congressional polarization.  The short story is that it's a combination of the polarization among the highly aware that I just discussed, geographic sorting based on partisanship, redistricting/gerrymandering, party primaries, and also institutional changes regarding procedural debates within Congress itself.  

 

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A few quick points to add onto the last post:

Demographics are more tightly aligned with partisanship than in the past.  Bill Bishop's book (The Big Sort) even shows that Americans are increasingly moving into more politically homogenous neighborhoods.  So Republicans move to more heavily Republican neighborhoods and Democrats move to more heavily Democratic ones. 

Race, income, region, religion, and so forth are stronger predictors of party identification today than they were 40 years ago.  Also, demographics has increasingly translated into economic and purchasing decisions.  A person who goes into Walmart, buys ground beef, whole milk, Cherios, and Sam Adams beer is very different, politically, than the person who goes into Whole Foods and buys wild caught salmon, soy milk, Kashi cereal, and Heinekan beer.  So Democrats want to live near Whole Foods and Republicans want to live near Walmarts.  Democrats are more concentrated in neighborhoods close to ethnic restaurants and Trader Joe's; Republicans are more conentrated in neighborhoods close to Walmarts and gun shops.  (Work by Jim Gimple demonstrates this tendency empirically.)

This connection between demographics and political views also why narrow-casting works...liberals tune into certain stations like Comedy Central or MSNBC for news and conservatives tune into other stations for their news.  Liberals and conservative are significantly different in terms of demographics, so media outlets can capture larger percentages of those demographics with overtly partisan political coverage and companies can advertise their products to those narrow demographics.  The partisan outlets make money from the ads and the companies make money by reaching large percentages of their target demographic.  You won't see Kashi advertised on InfoWars and you won't see Glocks advertised on DailyKos.  

 

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Just to be sure I'm following so far, you're saying polarization (particularly elite polarization) precedes cable news, and therefore is not a result of it.  But you also seem to be saying that the narrowing of the markets for news in general (probably to include talk radio, internet sites, etc.) made polarization more evident and, perhaps, contributed to growing polarization.

Is that roughly correct?

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1 hour ago, JDaveG said:

Just to be sure I'm following so far, you're saying polarization (particularly elite polarization) precedes cable news, and therefore is not a result of it.  But you also seem to be saying that the narrowing of the markets for news in general (probably to include talk radio, internet sites, etc.) made polarization more evident and, perhaps, contributed to growing polarization.

Is that roughly correct?

Yep, that's pretty much it.  Elite polarization and the polarization of the high aware group was going on long before cable news, let alone the internet.  But the post-broadcast era likely accelerated the polarization of the high aware group while simultaneously leading a lot of low aware people to tune out completely from news content.  It gave the high aware group partisan media so they can pick what fits their party identification (which allows them to more closely mirror the polarization of elites) and gave the low aware group the ability to avoid virtually all political news.  

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16 minutes ago, Leon Troutsky said:

Yep, that's pretty much it.  Elite polarization and the polarization of the high aware group was going on long before cable news, let alone the internet.  But the post-broadcast era likely accelerated the polarization of the high aware group while simultaneously leading a lot of low aware people to tune out completely from news content.  It gave the high aware group partisan media so they can pick what fits their party identification (which allows them to more closely mirror the polarization of elites) and gave the low aware group the ability to avoid virtually all political news.  

Gotcha -- that's what I thought.

I noticed things getting worse with the rise of talk radio in the 90s.  At first it was refreshing to hear other views, because the nightly news and especially cable news were just so bad, but then it quickly became obvious that they were not only as bad, but worse.  So I always attributed it to having alternate media sources so everyone could get "their side," except one side at the time was predominately bombastic and radio-based and the other was more subdued and TV based.  Then with the rise of the internet and the 24 hour news cycle, it just got worse and worse.

But I never considered the polarization of the elites, and you're right -- in the 80s the opposition to Reagan was pretty unprecedented (other than Nixon, who was a special case), and then Clinton was just on another level in terms of zeal to go after him.  I still remember Gingrich speaking to an empty chamber on C-SPAN, only nobody knew it was empty.  Etc.

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14 minutes ago, JDaveG said:

Gotcha -- that's what I thought.

I noticed things getting worse with the rise of talk radio in the 90s.  At first it was refreshing to hear other views, because the nightly news and especially cable news were just so bad, but then it quickly became obvious that they were not only as bad, but worse.  So I always attributed it to having alternate media sources so everyone could get "their side," except one side at the time was predominately bombastic and radio-based and the other was more subdued and TV based.  Then with the rise of the internet and the 24 hour news cycle, it just got worse and worse.

But I never considered the polarization of the elites, and you're right -- in the 80s the opposition to Reagan was pretty unprecedented (other than Nixon, who was a special case), and then Clinton was just on another level in terms of zeal to go after him.  I still remember Gingrich speaking to an empty chamber on C-SPAN, only nobody knew it was empty.  Etc.

Until Tom Foley ordered the cameras to pan out on C-SPAN. ;)

I'm going to post later about the causes of elite polarization, but the dynamic you're describing is a big part of it.  Parliamentary tactics and general f***ery by both sides explains nearly half of the polarization we've seen in Congress.  It has to do with the majority party (Democrats back in the 80s) Limiting amendments on the floor to shut out the minority, the minority using parliamentary stalling tactics and procedural votes like the rules to express opposition, followed by the majority party resorting to closed rules, following by the minority looking for other stalling tactics and parliamentary maneuvers, etc.

We saw that recently when Democrats used a little known quorem rule (the 'boycott') to try to stop a vote on two Trump nominees, followed by Republicans using the rarely used suspension of the rules to move forward without a quorem, followed by Democrats looking for ways to stall the vote on the floor in the Senate...etc. etc. etc.

Jon Stewart once referred to this whole thing as "a game of a**hole poker".  It's the best description that I've seen.

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Kind of indirectly related, but "polarization" can mean different things.  Most people think of it as issue distance -- how far right are Republicans and how far left are Democrats?  But another type of polarization is "partisan sorting", where people slightly to the left begin voting consistently Democratic and people slightly to the right begin consistently voting Republican.  So people "sort" themselves into the appropriate party based on their policy views (loosely defined).  

There's a ton of evidence that the majority of Americans are sorting into a "consistent" party identification.  This is true among the moderately aware, especially.  There's very little evidence that most Americans are increasingly ideologically extreme (issue distance).  So we see widespread sorting among the public but no widespread issue distance among the American public.  The only evidence of increased issue distance is between highly aware Republicans and Democrats.  

The partisan sorting is compounded by the geographic sorting that I described in a previous post where people move to more homogeous partisan neighborhoods and make consumption choices based on underlying values that correlate with their demographics and party identification.  

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49 minutes ago, JDaveG said:

Gotcha -- that's what I thought.

I noticed things getting worse with the rise of talk radio in the 90s.  At first it was refreshing to hear other views, because the nightly news and especially cable news were just so bad, but then it quickly became obvious that they were not only as bad, but worse.  So I always attributed it to having alternate media sources so everyone could get "their side," except one side at the time was predominately bombastic and radio-based and the other was more subdued and TV based.  Then with the rise of the internet and the 24 hour news cycle, it just got worse and worse.

But I never considered the polarization of the elites, and you're right -- in the 80s the opposition to Reagan was pretty unprecedented (other than Nixon, who was a special case), and then Clinton was just on another level in terms of zeal to go after him.  I still remember Gingrich speaking to an empty chamber on C-SPAN, only nobody knew it was empty.  Etc.

It makes a lot of sense that polarization would predate omnimedia when you look at the realignment of the mid-60's. Whereas before, the labels "republican" and "democrat" were less uniform, the appeal by Republicans to southern democrats seems to have created more efficient ideological sorting. There are still some overlaps (for instance, the greater tendency for certain minority groups to have conservative social/religious views but vote for Democrats) but the resorting and gravity of urban/suburban/rural areas seems to have cleaned things up quite a bit. 

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There are more layers to what is going on than you are discussing Trout. Some of what we see unfolding today has influences from a variety of sources. Make no mistake that most people see the media differently today than they use to. Part of what we seeing unfold can be laid directly on the MSM and intelligentsia's doorstep. You fail to note that it is largely left leaning.  With that said we have seen the rise of the alt media as you would call them. This has not caused the polarizing of the country. That occurred because since the 60s and the rise of globalism the pendulum from both parties have swung left. It is far from being progressive also or liberal. 

Obama comes along and under the guise of hope and change and a complacent MSM accelerates the move left. You appoint judicial activist to the court while ignoring their rulings. There is a lot you are missing so far. You do okay pointing out some flaws with the establishment but I think you miss the psychology under girding the rapid and accelerating polarization we are seeing that is resulting in a very radical left. I'm not talking about the political theater in Congress and Senate. I'm talking about a left that can not engage in a reasonable debate and result to fear tactics and further polarizing. Your side including the MSM and your leaders seem perfectly content to sew the dissent and stoke the flames.

Is that what you do to people's children in hopes of gaining your place in a corrupt establishment? Do you convince yourself that getting men in girl's bathroom is just good and therefore justifies it?

Edited by Sobeit
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