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A Primer on Polarization in American Politics.


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10 hours ago, Worzone said:

Im polarized, I honestly don't think we will ever recover from our history  nor will we ever reconcile the political atmosphere of conservatives and Liberals. I think we are heading on a one way ticket to the  eventual dissolving of the Union at some point in the future because our ideologies are growing farther and farther apart until one day it will snap like a rubber band. the two sides are incompatible and the further each side goes, the more that will become even more visible. 

Except the people you're talking about are only 25-30% of the American public.  The rest aren't polarized, are not ideologically rigid or extreme, and mostly just don't care about all of the bickering they see from both sides.  There's not that single driving issues that divides people like there was during the Civil War.  

What's happened is that as the parties polarized and became tribal towards one another, that vast majority of relatively moderate and pragmatically minded public is being turned off by politics.  They are disatisfied when one side gets in and tries to enact it's strong liberal/conservative agenda, especially when that agenda doesn't produce good economic and foreign policy results.  It's one explanation for why trust in government is very low.  The two more ideologically extreme parties are not representing the majority of American citizens and each party acts like the public approves their ideological agenda whenever they win an election, and they find out very quickly that is not the case.

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7 hours ago, Sobeit said:

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?

How is the "leftist" media responsible for the polarization that occurred in the 70s?  The media had a monopoly on the 6-7PM TV slot for years prior to that time and the parties weren't as divided as they are today.  

Again, the evidence is pretty overwhelming that polarization among the highly aware people followed the polarization among elites.  You can check out work by Marc Hetherington, Carmines and Stimson, or any of the dozens of other studies that have empirically demonstrated this trend.  You're viewing this through your partisan lens right now ("it's the left and the media and the left").  

Also, I doubt anyone reading this thread would accuse me of over simplifying things. ;)

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2 minutes ago, Leon Troutsky said:

How is the "leftist" media responsible for the polarization that occurred in the 70s?  The media had a monopoly on the 6-7PM TV slot for years prior to that time and the parties weren't as divided as they are today.  

Again, the evidence is pretty overwhelming that polarization among the highly aware people followed the polarization among elites.  You can check out work by Marc Hetherington, Carmines and Stimson, or any of the dozens of other studies that have empirically demonstrated this trend.  You're viewing this through your partisan lens right now ("it's the left and the media and the left").  

Also, I doubt anyone reading this thread would accuse me of over simplifying things. ;)

I'm referring to the acceleration of it that has occurred since the 90s. We have not been here since the 70s or even 80s. Again though I agree with some of your points. What I am specifically referring to is a radicalization of the left that has increased. 

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13 minutes ago, HMFIC said:

I don't write three loooong pages of nonsense just to get attention from other lefties. That excludes  mdrake, he can't make up his mind as to WHAT he is, so he votes Libertarian, and sucks up to you on occasion. Would you hire a lawyer who can't make up his mind about anything ?

If you had reading comprehension you would understand Trout's lengthy posts. I know reading couldn't your bag in school.

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Polarization in Congress

If elite polarization best explains the polarization among the high aware citizens, then what explains the polarization of elites?  Sean Theriault's book (Party Polarization in Congress) presents an empirical analysis of the causes of congressional polarization and focuses on four interrelated factors.

The first factor is geographic and partisan sorting.  I described this in a previous post and it involves people sorting into more consistent party identifications and people moving to neighborhoods that are more politically homogenous.  This creates more homogenous districts (and states) that create safer seats for members of Congress.  Theriault found that the ideology for members from these safe, homogenous districts was significantly more extreme than for members from less homogenous "swing" districts.  The safe partisan seats allow members to adopt more ideologically extreme positions without fearing a general election loss.

The second factor is redistricting.  This is closely related to sorting because the more homogenous neighborhoods make it easier for state legislatures to draw congressional districts that are more strongly Republican/Democratic.  That compounds the effect of sorting by giving members safe seats where they do not fear general election challenges from the opposition.  Importantly, though, redistricting can ONLY explain polarization in the House.  The Senate doesn't have redistricting (state lines don't change), and the level of polarization in the Senate is about the same as in the House over the past 40 years.  Redistricting is one of the things many people blame for polarization and other ills with our political system, but in fact it's not that great of an explanation and it's role is largely to compound the effect of sorting.

The third factor involves party activists.  Political activists (the high aware people in Zaller's theory) are more likely to vote in primary elections and they are more likely to demand ideologically "pure" candidates who adhere to the ideology more strictly. With the safe districts created by sorting and redistricting, members of Congress no longer fear general election challenges from the opposition party.  However, they are still vulnerable to primary challenges from the left/right within their own party.  So they face more polarized primary voters demanding more stringent adherence to the ideology, which creates more ideologically extreme members of Congress in one of three ways:

1.  An incumbent refuses to shift to the right/left and loses a primary race to a more extreme candidate.  The more extreme candidate wins the general and that seat shifts to the right/left.

2.  An incumbent fears a primary challenge and begins articulating (and voting) more ideologically rigid positions.  The incumbent, in other words, becomes more ideologically extreme.

3.  The incumbent retires and is replaced by a more ideologically extremem member of their own party.  

Theriault finds that sorting, redistricting, and primaries are all statistically significant explanations of polarization in Congress.  However, combined, all three only explain about half of the polarization that we've seen.

The fourth factor is the strongest one and involves institutional rules and parliamentary tactics.  In the past, congressional committees were the place where party differences were hashed out and floor debate was more exhibition.  Floor votes tended to be deferential to the committees.  Over the years, however, this norm began getting violated as the minority party began demanding amendments and disrupting the compromises and deals made in the committees.  The majority party also began to act more exclusively...cutting the minority party out of deals or otherwise using heavy-handed tactics.  Once the minority party started to react to this heavy-handed committee actions by disrupting the floor debate, the majority reacted by restricting the rules to disallow amendments and other efforts by individual members to influence legislation on the floor.  The main way they did this was through "closed rules" that were passed in the House Rules Committee by party-line vote.  The minority began using the rules vote on the floor to express disatisfaction and opposition, even on bills that would eventually pass unanimously.  In both the House and the Senate, the minority party also began looking at parliamentary tactics to express opposition and embarass the majority party.  The most obvious tactic would be increasing use of the filibuster and unanimous consent requests in the Senate.  This pattern of back-and-forth spans eras when both parties were in the majority and both parties were in the minority.  The majority party would empower its leaders to restrict the ability of the minority to influence legislation on the floor, and the leadership of the majority was increasingly selective to not introduce legislation that split its own membership.  So you had the majority party introducing legislation that united its own caucus, using restrictive rules that kept the minority party from influencing legislation, triggering the minority party to oppose the (partisan) bill and to object to the closed rules and use parliamentary tactics to disrupt and delay votes on that (partisan) bill.

So we have something of a long-running game of a**hole poker by both sides (that's my description, not Theriault's).  This institutional/parliamentary factor explains almost half of the polarization in Congress over the past 40 years.  

Theriault describes this as a two-step process where the two steps are not isolated.

1.  Direct effect - More polarized activists living in more homogenous districts elect more ideologically extreme candidates to the House and Senate.

2.  Indirect effect - Theriault writes, "The more polarized members coming from more partisan districts pursue more polarized politics by voting for more polarized party leaders who implement a more polarized legislative agenda and more polarizing legislative procedures."

But as Theriault explains, the first step provides the impetus for members to take the second step.  Theriault is also clear that it's not necessarily a one-way street.  The more polarized legislative agenda and more polarized members of Congress can also lead to more polarized activists (high aware in Zaller's terms), which creates greater demand for members to be more polarized.  

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1 minute ago, Worzone said:

yet..the more things get burned down, the more people get hurt, and the the more the extremes of each party push more people to the extremes each party the more numbers will begin moving to those extremes. 

But that's not what has happened.  The overall public is not significantly more polarized than it was 40 years ago, at least regarding ideology.  The majority of Americans are not ideological at all...meaning they don't take rigid positions across the issues.  Most Americans are still relatively moderate in their political beliefs and are more interested in outcomes - good economy and peaceful foreign relations.  That hasn't changed.

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4 minutes ago, Worzone said:

not from what I have seen. many are, and many are quiet about it. young and old. they don't say much because they either

A. don't like talking about politics

B. Don't want to put up with headache of doing so

C. starting rumblings of dissatisfaction with what they are seeing. 

I believe most Americans whether they answered the study honestly or not are polarized and you see it every election. 

But look at the research I talked about that shows the electorate is more composed of polarized citizens while the low aware (thus moderate) voters stay home.  You see the polarization during elections, but the electorate is not the same as the American public.  That's one of the major findings from this research...you have a political system and elections that are heavily polarized while most Americans are moderate, pragmatic, and don't care very much.  Again, the electorate is polarized but the public at large is not.

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55 minutes ago, HMFIC said:

I don't write three loooong pages of nonsense just to get attention from other lefties. That excludes  mdrake, he can't make up his mind as to WHAT he is, so he votes Libertarian, and sucks up to you on occasion. Would you hire a lawyer who can't make up his mind about anything ?

Here's the deal: you can either engage with the content on a substantive level (as sobeit is doing) or ignore it. 

The continued personal attacks about the length of the posts or posting of nonsense like "blah blah blah" or really anything else is unacceptable. 

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1 hour ago, Sobeit said:

I'm referring to the acceleration of it that has occurred since the 90s. We have not been here since the 70s or even 80s. Again though I agree with some of your points. What I am specifically referring to is a radicalization of the left that has increased. 

Rightwing media outlets rose during that same time.  You want to view this as "radicalization of the left" when, in fact, both sides have been polarizing rapidly since the 90s.  That's the point JDave and I were talking about with cable and the internet...it accelerated the polarization among the highly aware but it didn't start the process.  

If anything, the Republicans began "radicalizing" or becoming more ideologically extreme at a faster rate than did Democrats:

polar_house_means_2014.png

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21 minutes ago, Leon Troutsky said:

Rightwing media outlets rose during that same time.  You want to view this as "radicalization of the left" when, in fact, both sides have been polarizing rapidly since the 90s.  That's the point JDave and I were talking about with cable and the internet...it accelerated the polarization among the highly aware but it didn't start the process.  

If anything, the Republicans began "radicalizing" or becoming more ideologically extreme at a faster rate than did Democrats:

polar_house_means_2014.png

So you are missing my point here. What gave rise to the alt-media? It was a move toward a national security state in which people felt like they were being lied to.

It was a drift left and that is why the neocons are on their way out. The right wing radicals used the ballot box to protest the system this election legally and lawfully while the establishment went after it. Now the radicalized left is waging war against a system that worked just how it was intended. If you do not see the difference here you are just in denial.

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1 minute ago, Sobeit said:

So you are missing my point here. What gave rise to the alt-media? It was a drift left and that is why the neocons are on their way out. The right wing radicals used the ballot box to protest the system this election legally and lawfully while the establishment went after it. Now the radicalized left is waging war against a system that worked just how it was intended. If you do not see the difference here you are just in denial.

I don't know that this holds up though. Because there are left-leaning "alt media" sources too. 

What has given rise to "alt media" is what Trout has already touched upon: smaller barriers to entry. Once the barriers to entry are effectively eliminated, "sellers" of information have incentive to start aggressively pursuing consumership by appealing to the positions of either side of the political spectrum. 

So when the right complains about a "biased media" they essentially create a ready-to-access consumer base for information vendors to profit from. 

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38 minutes ago, Worzone said:

I meant in my day to day dealings with people in Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi, not just in election years. A vast majority refuse to talk about politics in public. One because they hate whatever stigma comes along with doing so. Democratic friends of mine are called Baby Killers whether they support it or not. and Republican friends of mine are called racist bigots whether they are or not. So they say nothing. But when you get them one on one and they are willing to talk about it they often have a lot to say. Most people are polarized, but do so quietly because they just don't want to deal with the extremes of the other party. that is not healthy and breeds division. because eventually all that bottled up is going to come out if it gets pressurized by the extremes of the nation like Berkley for example since it is the most recent. 

Except there's no evidence that most people are polarized across the country.  Here's a liberal-conservative self-ID index from the American National Election Survey from 1972-2012:

http://www.electionstudies.org/nesguide/toptable/tab3_1.htm

In 2012, the breakdown was:

Extremely liberal: 3%

Liberal: 10%

Slightly liberal: 11%

Moderate: 32%

Slightly conservative: 14%

Conservative: 18%

Extremely conservative: 4%

Those numbers haven't changed over the past 40 years significantly.  

Here's a very good illustration of what I mean about how the low aware (what Pew calls "less engaged) are not very polarized compared to the high aware ("more engaged") citizens.

PP-2014-06-12-polarization-1-05.png

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3 minutes ago, DoYouSeeWhatHappensLarry said:

The left has barely radicalized at all. I mean, where's the evidence? Some folks in Berkeley (which may not even be accurately described as members of the left) and the Occupy movement? Is that radical? 

 

It depends on what people mean by "radicalized".  If they mean ideological extremism, then the left hasn't "radicalized' more than the right.  If they mean something else, well that's not what i"m talking about in this thread.  And yeah, I'd like to see the evidence of that.

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2 minutes ago, DoYouSeeWhatHappensLarry said:

I don't know that this holds up though. Because there are left-leaning "alt media" sources too. 

What has given rise to "alt media" is what Trout has already touched upon: smaller barriers to entry. Once the barriers to entry are effectively eliminated, "sellers" of information have incentive to start aggressively pursuing consumership by appealing to the positions of either side of the political spectrum. 

So when the right complains about a "biased media" they essentially create a ready-to-access consumer base for information vendors to profit from. 

Pretty much.  The key is understanding that the public hasn't changed regarding motivations to consume political information.  The high aware group always wanted more information, and they always wanted informatoin that supports their side.  The low aware never wanted political information and they always wanted to tune out.

What changed was the information/media environment.  WIth cable and the internet, as you pointed out it's cheaper to produce content and so partisan sources could make a profit with overtly partisan programming.  The high aware group likes that and flocks to the media supporting their side while the low aware group tunes out completely and watches Oprah, ESPN, or cat memes.  One of the important findings from all of this research is that the media environment and the political environment (e.g., elites polarizing) changed and the public reacted the way they always would have reacted if it had occurred sooner.

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3 minutes ago, DoYouSeeWhatHappensLarry said:

No, I'm legitimately asking. 

What "radical leftist" politicians are there? What "radical leftist" groups are there? 

If I'm blinded, it should be easy enough to educate me with specific examples. Maybe you know things I don't. 

ARe you saying that the rioters are indicative of normal liberals?

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2 minutes ago, DoYouSeeWhatHappensLarry said:

The left has barely radicalized at all. I mean, where's the evidence? Some folks in Berkeley (which may not even be accurately described as members of the left) and the Occupy movement? Is that radical? 

 

Well I would argue that it is in the process of being expanded. Obama expanded it greatly in 8 years and now since Hillary lost the leadership is embracing the more radical elements and bringing them to the forefront. Some are doing it just because they realize just how much power they have lost.

I'd argue that you guys have been pretty radical for a while though. I agree with Dave that the greatest civil rights issue of the day is abortion. That alone is very radical yet the media tried for years we have no voice and we are in the minority for opposing it. We were never the minority despite the establishments best efforts to convince us otherwise.

 

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2 minutes ago, Worzone said:

There wouldn't be any evidence. Because they arent going to tell the truth to the pollsters. Thats one reason we saw a huge discrepancy between what polls said would happen in the election and what happened. People are just going to nod amd smile to avoid the threats of the other sides

First, we have to go by the evidence we have.  I've presented a ton of evidence from political science literature to support what I've said.  

Second, the polls were very accurate this year.  They were more accurate than in 2012.  The average of the polls had Clinton winning the popular vote by 3%.  She actually won the popular vote by 2%.  The notion that there's some hidden, secret group of voters lying to pollsters just isn't supported by evidence.  

People do refuse to engage in political conversations because they're turned off by the vitriol.  But that doesn't mean these people are secretly ideological extremists who want far left or far right policies across the board.  Why would somebody who claims they aren't interested in politics care enough to adopt some ideologically purist and rigid political perspective?  The very fact that they don't care very much kind of shows they're not going to care enough to take extremist positions on most issues.

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2 minutes ago, Doozer said:

ARe you saying that the rioters are indicative of normal liberals?

Not at all. I'm not really sure where the rioters fit into the equation. If they're anarchists, I don't know that you can accurately call them liberals. If they're angry liberals then they would still be atypical given their small number. But you couldnt say they WERENT liberals if they were. 

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Just now, Worzone said:

You shouldnt mistake quietness or lack of engagement publicly for not caring

Depends on what you mean by "caring".  Most people "care" about politics in the sense that they don't want war or recession.  They just don't care enough to go out and get well-informed about politics, let alone excerpt the energy to develop well-defined and extreme ideologies across a lot of policy areas.  There may be one or two issues they care about, but on the whole they don't have the time or motivation to inform themselves enough to develop the attitudes you say they have.

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4 minutes ago, DoYouSeeWhatHappensLarry said:

Not at all. I'm not really sure where the rioters fit into the equation. If they're anarchists, I don't know that you can accurately call them liberals. If they're angry liberals then they would still be atypical given their small number. But you couldnt say they WERENT liberals if they were. 

This seems to be the go-to response for many on the left. Their "movement" is peaceful and tolerant- except for those other guys who say they're liberals, but aren't really part of the group.

BLM is mostly peaceful

Occupy is mostly legal

Feminists are mostly tolerant.

You can also argue this for the right, where liberals are pinning the racist, gun toting rednecks, as indicative of all conservatives, but you don't see that group out on the streets. In fact, they've done absolutely nothing except get their butts kicked in by tolerant liberals.

 

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3 minutes ago, Sobeit said:

Well I would argue that it is in the process of being expanded. Obama expanded it greatly in 8 years and now since Hillary lost the leadership is embracing the more radical elements and bringing them to the forefront. Some are doing it just because they realize just how much power they have lost.

I'd argue that you guys have been pretty radical for a while though. I agree with Dave that the greatest civil rights issue of the day is abortion. That alone is very radical yet the media tried for years we have no voice and we are in the minority for opposing it. We were never the minority despite the establishments best efforts to convince us otherwise.

 

I see the argument that the left is "radicalizing" now in the same way that the Tea Party was radicalizing in 2010. The reactions are pretty similar. 

The notion that Obama made some extreme push left is very questionable. He was a center-left politician. There's no support for suggestions otherwise. In fact, if we REALLY got into it, there's a stronger argument that was too far right on a number of issues. 

Abortion isn't "radical" at all. Complex and difficult? Absolutely. 

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