The impact of party identification in U.S. elections has grown since the 1970s (e g., Bartels 2000; Abramson, Aldrich, and Rohde 2010, 197–207). This trend has two components: The proportion of voters who consider themselves Democrats or Republicans (rather than independents, moderates, or something else) has increased, and partisan voters are more likely than in the past to vote for candidates of their party. There are several possible explanations for this trend. Increased partisan voting may reflect the presence of clearer signals about where the parties stand on issues, which in turn allow voters to better act on their preferences (Fiorina 2006). Stronger partisan voting patterns also could result from more automatic endorsement of one's own side and the reflexive dismissal of alternatives (Taber and Lodge 2006). And more partisan voters are turning out to vote at increasingly higher rates while moderates turn out less often (Prior 2007).
Whether attributable to fewer moderates voting or more partisan habits of mind, increased partisan voting likely has contributed to greater partisan polarization among elected representatives. Reflexively partisan voters inspire elite polarization when they routinely give their party's candidate the benefit of the doubt no matter how extreme her positions and when they automatically dismiss the opposition no matter how much the opposition proposes to compromise. When moderates are unlikely to turn out and the voting public is composed predominantly of partisans, candidates may have incentives to take more extreme positions to engage the base and to ward off more partisan primary challengers.
In this chapter, we outline four citizen-focused and communication-based interventions to combat partisan polarization among the voting public. We first explain why turnout among moderates has declined and describe two solutions aiming to get them back to the polls. Next, we detail the rationale for tackling reflexively partisan decision making and propose a strategy for combating its prevalence. Finally, we explain why it may be effective and cost efficient to intervene with youth to motivate political interest and discourage reflexive partisanship.