We Can’t Even Agree on What Is Tearing Us Apart

We Can’t Even Agree on What Is Tearing Us Apart (behind paywall), Thomas B. Edsall, May 25, 2022.

Today, even scholars of polarization are polarized.

This was not always the case.

…They haven’t yet related it to the wider literature or explained why so many centrist voters seem unable to elect centrists, or why it is when there is a national tide running against a party, it’s mostly moderates who lose.

Fowler and his co-authors, on the other hand, contest the view that voters are deeply polarized:

We find that a large proportion of the American public is neither consistently liberal nor consistently conservative…

There are, Fowler and his collaborators point out,

many genuine moderates in the American electorate…

Orr contended in an email:

Several experiments have successfully manipulated feelings toward people from the opposing party and found no effects on anti-democratic attitudes or other predicted consequences of affective polarization.

…There is another key factor underpinning growing polarization and the absence of moderate politicians.

“Most legislative polarization is already baking into the set of people who run for office,” Andrew Hall, a political scientist at Stanford, wrote in his book, “Who Wants to Run: How the Devaluing of Political Office Drives Polarization”: “Indeed, when we look at the ideological positions of who runs for the House, we see the set of all candidates — not just incumbents — has polarized markedly since 1980.”

This trend results from the fact that since “the winning candidate gets to influence ideological policies” in increasingly polarized legislatures and the Congress, “the ideological payoffs of running for office are not equal across the ideological spectrum.” As a result, “when costs of running for office are high or benefits of holding office are low, more moderate candidates are disproportionately less likely to run.”

In other words, polarization has created its own vicious circle, weeding out moderates, fostering extremists and constraining government action even in times of crisis. (Posted in Politics/Partisan Divide)

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