Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 44
  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: May 2015

2 - Causes and Consequences of Polarization

from Introductory Chapters

Summary

Rarely these days does a news cycle pass without new stories of political dysfunction in Washington, D.C. Reports of stalemates, fiscal cliffs, and failed grand bargains have begun to erode the public confidence in the ability of our representative institutions to govern effectively. In May 2013, only one American in six approved of the way Congress has handled its job. Sadly, that level of support was a major improvement from the previous summer, when wrangling over the usually routine matter of raising the debt ceiling drove congressional approval down to 10%.

The most common diagnoses of Washington's ailments center on the emergence of excessive partisanship and deep ideological divisions among political elites and officeholders. In short, “polarization” is to blame. Consequently, the reform-minded have taken up the mantle of reducing polarization or mitigating its effects. In recent years, proposals for electoral reform to change electoral districting, primary elections, and campaign finance have been presented as panaceas. Other reformers have focused on changing legislative procedures such as those related to the filibuster, appropriations, and confirmation process to limit the opportunities for polarization to undermine government.

Although there has been intense public discussion about the causes of polarization, its consequences, and possible cures, social science research has only recently begun to help shape those discussions. The intent of this chapter is to provide a more evidence-based foundation for these debates.

PRELIMINARIES

The academic study on partisanship and polarization is based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative research. Noteworthy qualitative accounts, which often combine historical research and participant observation, include Rohde (1991), Sinclair (2006), Hacker and Pierson (2006), and Mann and Ornstein (2012).

The starting point for many quantitative studies of polarization is the robust observation of rising partisan differences in roll-call voting behavior in Congress. The bipartisan coalitions of the 1950s and 1960s have given way to the party-line voting of the twenty-first century. Although these trends are apparent in simple descriptive statistics about partisan divisions on roll calls, political scientists have developed more refined measures of partisan voting differences.

Abramowitz, Alan I. 2010. The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and American Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Aldrich, John. 1995. Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Aldrich, John, and Rohde, David W. 2010. “Consequences of Electoral and Institutional Change: The Evolution of Conditional Party Government in the U. S. House of Representatives.” In New Directions in American Political Parties, ed. Stonecash, Jeffrey M., pp. 234–250. New York: Routledge.
Ansolabehere, Stephen, de Figueiredo, John M, and Snyder, James M.. 2003. “Why is There so Little Money in U. S. Politics?Journal of Economic Perspectives 17(1): 105–130.
Ansolabehere, Stephen, Rodden, Jonathan, and Snyder, James M.. 2006. “Purple America.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 20(2): 97–118.
Bafumi, Joseph, and Herron, Michael C.. 2010. “Leapfrog Representation and Extremism: A Study of American Voters and Their Members in Congress.” American Political Science Review 104(3): 519–542.
Barber, Michael. 2013. “Ideological Donors, Contribution Limits, and the Polarization of State Legislatures?” Typescript. Princeton: Princeton University.
Baron, David P. 1994. “Electoral Competition with Informed and Uniformed Voters.” American Political Science Review 88(1): 33–47.
Bartels, Larry. 2000. “Partisanship and Voting Behavior 1952–1996.” American Journal of Political Science 44(1): 35–50.
Bartels, Larry. 2008. Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Binder, Sarah A. 1999. “The Dynamics of Legislative Gridlock, 1947–96.” American Political Science Review 93(3): 519–533.
Binder, Sarah A., and Maltzman, Forrest. 2009. Advice and Dissent: The Struggle to Shape the Federal Judiciary. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Binder, Sarah A., and Smith, Steven S.. 1997. Politics or Principle? Filibustering in the United States Senate. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Bishop, Bill. 2009. The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded Americans Is Tearing Us Apart. New York: Mariner Books.
Bonica, Adam. 2013. “Ideology and Interests in the Political Marketplace.” American Journal of Political Science 57(2): 294–311.
Brady, David W., Han, Hahrie, and Pope, Jeremy C.. 2007. “Primary Elections and Candidate Ideology: Out of Step with the Primary Electorate?Legislative Studies Quarterly 32(1): 79–105.
Brewer, Mark, Mariani, Mack, and Stonecash, Jeffrey M.. 2002. Diverging Parties: Social Change, Realignment, and Party Polarization. Boulder: Westview Press.
Bullock, Will, and Clinton, Joshua D.. 2011. “More a Molehill than a Mountain: The Effects of the Blanket Primary on Elected Officials' Behavior from California.” Journal of Politics 73(3): 915–930.
Burnham, Walter Dean. 1970. Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics. New York: W. W. Norton.
Canon, David T. 1999. Race, Redistricting, and Representation: The Unintended Consequences of Black Majority Districts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Carsey, T. M., & Layman, G. C. 2006. “Changing Sides or Changing Minds? Party Identification and Policy Preferences in the American Electorate.” American Journal of Political Science 50(2): 464–477.
Carson, Jamie L., Crespin, Michael H., Finocchiaro, Charles J., and Rohde, David W.. 2007. “Redistricting and Party Polarization in the US House of Representatives.” American Politics Research 35(6): 878–904.
Clinton, Joshua D. 2006. “Representation in Congress: Constituents and Roll Calls in the 106th House.” Journal of Politics 68(2): 397–409.
Clinton, Joshua D., Jackman, Simon, and Rivers, Douglas. 2004. “The Statistical Analysis of Roll Call Data.” American Political Science Review 98(2): 355–370.
Converse, Philip. 1964. “The Nature of Belief Systems in the Mass Public.” In Ideology and Discontent, ed. Apter, David. New York: Free Press: 1–74.
Cox, Gary, and McCubbins, Mathew. 2005. Setting the Agenda: Responsible Party Government in the U.S. House of Representatives. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Cox, Gary W., and Poole, Keith T.. 2002. “On Measuring Partisanship in Roll-Call Voting: The US House of Representatives, 1877–1999.” American Journal of Political Science 46(3): 477–489.
Davis, Susan. 2012. “This Congress Could Be Least Productive since 1947.” USA Today. August 15, 2012. Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/washington/story/2012-08-14/unproductive-congress-not-passing-bills/57060096/1.
DellaVigna, Stefano, and Kaplan, Ethan. 2007. “The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 122(3): 1187–1234.
Edwards, Mickey. 2012. The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Eilperin, Juliet. 2007. Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship Is Poisoning the House of Representatives. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Ensley, Michael J. 2009. “Individual Campaign Contributions and Candidate Ideology.” Public Choice 138(1): 221–238.
Epstein, David, and O'Halloran, Sharyn. 1999. Delegating Powers: A Transaction Cost Politics Approach to Policy Making under Separate Powers. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Farhang, Sean. 2010. The Litigation State: Public Regulation and Private Lawsuits in the United States. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Fiorina, Morris P. 2013. “Party Homogeneity and Contentious Politics,” In Can We Talk? The Rise of Rude, Nasty, Stubborn Politics, eds. Shea, Daniel M. and Fiorina, Morris P.. New York: Pearson: 142–153.
Fiorina, Morris P., and Abrams, Samuel J.. 2008. “Political Polarization in the American Public.” Annual Review of Political Science 11: 563–588.
Fiorina, Morris P., Abrams, Samuel J., and Pope, Jeremy. 2005. Culture War? Myth of a Polarized America. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education.
Francia, Peter, Green, John, Herrnson, Paul, Powell, Lynda, and Wilcox, Clyde. 2003. The Financiers of Congressional Elections. New York: Columbia University Press.
Garand, James C. 2010. “Income Inequality, Party Polarization, and Roll-Call Voting in the US Senate.” Journal of Politics 72(4): 1109–1128.
Gelman, Andrew. 2009. Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Gentzkow, Matthew, and Shapiro, Jesse M.. 2006. “Media Bias and Reputation.” Journal of Political Economy 114(2): 280–316.
Gerber, Alan, Karlan, Dean, and Bergan, Daniel. 2009. “Does the Media Matter? A Field Experiment Measuring the Effect of Newspapers on Voting Behavior and Political Opinions.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 1(2): 35–52.
Gerber, Elisabeth R., and Morton, Rebecca B.. 1998. “Primary Election Systems and Representation.” Journal of Law, Economics and Organization 14(2): 304–324.
Gilens, Martin. 2012. Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Gilmour, John. 1995. Strategic Disagreement: Stalemate in American Politics. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Gimpel, James, and Edwards, James R.. 1998. The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform. London: Longman Publishing Group.
Gimpel, James, Lee, Frances, and Kaminski, Joshua. 2006. “The Political Geography of Campaign Contributions in American Politics.” Journal of Politics 68(3): 626–639.
Gimpel, James, Lee, Frances, and Pearson-Merkowitz, Shanna. 2008. “The Check Is in the Mail: Interdistrict Funding Flows in Congressional Elections.” American Journal of Political Science 52(2): 373–394.
Groseclose, Timothy, Levitt, Steven D., and Snyder Jr, James M.. 1999. “Comparing Interest Group Scores across Time and Chambers: Adjusted ADA Scores for the US Congress.” American Political Science Review 93(1): 33–50.
Groseclose, Timothy, and McCarty, Nolan. 2001. “The Politics of Blame: Bargaining before an Audience.” American Journal of Political Science 45(1): 100–119.
Groseclose, Timothy, and Milyo, Jeff. 2005. “A Measure of Media Bias.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 120(4): 1191–1237.
Hacker, Jacob S. 2004. “Privatizing Risk without Privatizing the Welfare State: The Hidden Politics of Social Policy Retrenchment in the United States.” American Political Science Review 98(2): 243–260.
Hacker, Jacob S., and Pierson, Paul. 2006. Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Hall, Robert L., and Wayman, Frank W.. 1990. “Buying Time: Moneyed Interests and the Mobilization of Bias in Congressional Committees.” American Political Science Review 84(3): 797–820.
Hare, Christopher, McCarty, Nolan, Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard. 2012. “Polarization is Real (and Asymmetric).” Voteview Blog. May 16, 2012. Retrieved Dec. 2013, from http://voteview.com/blog/?p=494.
Hirano, Shigeo, Snyder Jr., James M., Ansolabehere, Stephen, and Hansen, John Mark. 2010. “Primary Elections and Partisan Polarization in U.S. Congressional Elections.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 5(2): 169–191.
Hopkins, Daniel J., and Ladd, Jonathan. 2014. “The Consequences of Broader Media Choice: Evidence from the Expansion of Fox News.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 9: 115–135.
Iyengar, Shanto, Sood, Gaurav, and Lelkes, Yphtach. 2012. “Affect, Not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization.” Public Opinion Quarterly 763(3): 405–431.
Jacobson, Gary C. 1990. “The Effects of Campaign Spending in House Elections: New Evidence for Old Arguments.” American Journal of Political Science 34(2): 334–362.
Kasperowicz, Pete. 2012. “Parties Trade Blame for ‘Least Productive Congress' in Decades.” The Hill. Sept. 14, 2012. Retrieved Dec. 2013, from http://thehill.com/video/house/249597-cantor-hoyer-trade-barbs-on-the-way-out-the-door-to-2012-elections.
Kaufmann, Karen M., Gimpel, James G., and Hoffman, Adam H.. 2003. “A Promise Fulfilled? Open Primaries and Representation.” Journal of Politics 65(2): 457–476.
Klinkner, Philip A. 2004. “Red and Blue Scare: The Continuing Diversity of the American Electoral Landscape.” The Forum (2)2.
Koger, Gregory. 2010. Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Krehbiel, Keith. 1998. Pivotal Politics: A Theory of US Lawmaking. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Layman, Geoffrey, and Carsey, Thomas. 2002. “Party Polarization and ‘Conflict Extension' in the American Electorate.” American Journal of Political Science 46(4): 786–802.
Layman, Geoffrey C., Carsey, Thomas M., Green, John C., Richard, Herrera, and Cooperman, Rosalyn. 2010. “Activists and Conflict Extension in American Party Politics.” American Political Science Review 104(2): 324–346.
Lee, Frances. 2009. Beyond Ideology: Politics, Principles, and Partisanship in the U. S. Senate. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lenz, Gabriel S. 2012. Follow the Leader: How Voters Respond to Politicians' Policies and Performance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lessig, Lawrence. 2011. Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress – and a Plan to Stop It. New York: Hachette Book Group.
Levendusky, Matthew. 2009. The Partisan Sort: How Liberals Became Democrats and Conservatives Became Republicans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Levendusky, Matthew S., Pope, Jeremy C., and Jackman, Simon D.. 2008. “Measuring District-Level Partisanship with Implications for the Analysis of US Elections.” Journal of Politics 70(3): 736–753.
Mann, Thomas E., and Ornstein, Norman J.. 2012. It's Even Worse than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. New York: Basic Books.
Masket, Seth. 2008. “Where You Sit Is Where You Stand: The Impact of Seating Proximity on Legislative Cue-Taking.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 3: 301–311.
Masket, Seth, Shor, Boris, Rogers, Steven, and McCarty, Nolan. 2013. “A Primary Cause of Partisanship? Nomination Systems and Legislator Ideology.” Typescript. Princeton: Princeton University.
Mayhew, David R. 2005. Divided We Govern: Party Control, Lawmaking, and Investigations, 1946–2002. New Haven: Yale University Press.
McCarty, Nolan 2007. “The Policy Effects of Political Polarization.” In The Transformation of American Politics: Activist Government and the Rise of Conservatism, eds. Pierson, Paul and Skocpol, Theda. Princeton: Princeton University Press: 223–255.
McCarty, Nolan. 2012. “The Politics of the Pop: The U. S. Response to the Financial Crisis and the Great Recession.” In Coping with Crisis: Governmental Responses to the Great Recession, eds. Bermeo, Nancy and Pontusson, Jonas. New York: Cambridge University Press: 201–232.
McCarty, Nolan, Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard. 1997. Income Redistribution and the Realignment of American Politics. Washington, DC: AEI Press.
McCarty, Nolan, Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard. 2001. “The Hunt for Party Discipline in Congress.” American Political Science Review 95(3): 673–688.
McCarty, Nolan, Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard. 2006. Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
McCarty, Nolan, Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard. 2009. “Does Gerrymandering Cause Polarization?American Journal of Political Science 53(3): 666–680.
McCarty, Nolan, and Razaghian, Rose. 1999. “Advice and Consent: Senate Responses to Executive Branch Nominations 1885–1996.” American Journal of Political Science 43(4): 1122–1143.
McClosky, Herbert, Hoffmann, Paul J., and O'Hara, Rosemary. 1960. “Issue Conflict and Consensus among Party Leaders and Followers.” American Political Science Review 54(2): 406–427.
Minta, Michael D. 2009. “Legislative Oversight and the Substantive Representation of Black and Latino Interests in Congress.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 34(2): 193–218.
Minta, Michael D., and Sinclair-Chapman, Valeria. 2013. “Diversity in Political Institutions and Congressional Responsiveness to Minority Interests.” Political Research Quarterly 66(1): 27–140.
Moon, Woojin. 2004. “Party Activists, Campaign Resources and Candidate Position Taking: Theory, Tests and Applications.” British Journal of Political Science 34(4): 611–633.
Parker, Chrisopher S., and Barreto, Matt A.. 2013. Change They Can't Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Pew Center. 2012. “Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush and Obama Years.” Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Retrieved from www.people-press.org/2012/06/04/partisan-polarization-surges-in-bush-obama-years.
Piketty, Thomas, and Saez, Emmanuel. 2003. “Income Inequality in the United States 1913–1998.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 118(1): 1–39.
Poole, Keith T. 2007. “Changing Minds? Not in Congress!Public Choice 131: 435–451.
Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard. 1997. Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll Call Voting. New York: Oxford University Press.
Prior, Markus. 2007. Post-Broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Reich, Robert. 2013. “The Real Price of Congress's Gridlock.” New York Times, August 13.
Roberts, Jason M. 2007. “The Statistical Analysis of Roll-Call Data: A Cautionary Tale.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 32(3): 341–360.
Roberts, Jason M., and Smith, Steven S.. 2003. “Procedural Contexts, Party Strategy, and Conditional Party Voting in the US House of Representatives.” American Journal of Political Science 47(2): 305–317.
Rohde, David W. 1991. Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Schattschneider, E. E. 1960. The Semisovereign People. New York: Holt, Reinhart, and Winston.
Shaw, Daron. 2012. “If Everyone Votes Their Party, Why Do Presidential Election Outcomes Vary So Much?The Forum 3(1), Article 1.
Shor, Boris, and McCarty, Nolan. 2011. “The Ideological Mapping of American Legislatures.” American Political Science Review 105(3): 530–551.
Sides, John. 2012. “Your Do-Nothing Congress (in One Graph).” Washington Monthly. Sept. 21, 2012. Retrieved Dec. 2013, from www.washingtonmonthly.com/ten-miles-square/2012/09/your_donothing_congress_in_one040039.php.
Sinclair, Barbara. 2006. Party Wars: Polarization and the Politics of National Policy Making. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Sinclair, Barbara. 2008. “Spoiling the Sausages? How a Polarized Congress Deliberates and Legislates.” In Red and Blue Nation? Consequences and Corrections of America's Polarized Politics, eds. Nivola, Pietro S. and Brady, David W.. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press: 55–79.
Skocpol, Theda, and Williamson, Vanessa. 2012. The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Smith, Richard A. 1995. “Interest Group Influence in the US Congress.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 20(1): 89–139.
Snyder Jr., James M., and Groseclose, Tim. 2000. “Estimating Party Influence in Congressional Roll-Call Voting.” American Journal of Political Science 44(2): 193–211.
Snyder Jr., James M., and Stromberg, David. 2010. “Press Coverage and Political Accountability.” Journal of Political Economy 118(2): 355–408.
Steinhauer, Jennifer. 2012. “Congress Nearing End of Session Where Partisan Input Impeded Output.” New York Times, Sept. 18. 2012. Retrieved Dec. 2013, from www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/us/politics/congress-nears-end-of-least-productive-session.html.
Stone, Walt J., and Simas, Elizabeth N.. 2010. “Candidate Valence and Ideological Positions in US House Elections.” American Journal of Political Science 54(2): 371–388.
Sullivan, Paul. 2010. “Estate Tax Will Return Next Year, but Few Will Pay It.” New York Times, December 17.
Sundquist, James L. 1983. Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Sunstein, Cass R. 2002. “The Law of Group Polarization.” Journal of Political Philosophy 10: 175–195.
Tate, Katherine. 2003. Black Faces in the Mirror: African Americans and Their Representatives in the US Congress. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Theriault, Sean M. 2008a. Party Polarization in Congress. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Theriault, Sean M. 2008b. “The Procedurally Polarized Congress.” Presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston.
Tichenor, Daniel. 2002. Dividing Lines. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Tufte, Edward R. 1973. “The Relationship between Seats and Votes in Two-Party Systems.” American Political Science Review 67(2): 540–554.
Wallace, Sophia J. 2012. “It's Complicated: Latinos, President Obama, and the 2012 Election.” Social Science Quarterly 93(5): 1360–1383.
Wallace, Sophia J., Zepeda-Millán, Chris, and Jones-Correa, Michael. 2014. “Spatial and Temporal Proximity: Examining the Effects of Protests on Political Attitudes.” American Journal of Political Science 58(2): 433–448.
Wawro, Gregory, and Schickler, Eric. 2006. Filibuster: Obstruction and Lawmaking in the US Senate. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Zelizer, Julian E. 2006. On Capitol Hill: The Struggle to Reform Congress and Its Consequences, 1948–2000. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Zepeda-Millán, J. Chris. 2011. Dignity's Revolt: Threat, Identity, and Immigrant Mass Mobilization. PhD diss., Cornell University.