Sunday, July 06, 2014

Polarization by the Numbers

Conservative pundits and Republicans in general warn their constituents that the liberals are coming to get them, that the country is moving left under Obama and that they must be vigilant in fighting against this “liberal” disease. But is there any validity to the argument? Well, according to Paul Rosenberg, looking at the latest Pew data on polarization, today’s Democratic Party is not that different from the Democratic Party of 20 years ago (the triangulation variety of Clinton and the DLC)— or even earlier for that matter. This is made particularly clear by looking at how the 90 percent Democrat level of liberalism has barely moved a whisper since the 1960s in the House, according to Poole’s DW-Nominate score (see below). In the Senate, 90 percent of Democrats are actually more conservative than they were in the early 1960s.

The reverse is, of course, not the case. In both chambers, the 90 percent Republicans are substantially more conservative than they were in the 60s and 70s and, in the House, dramatically so. The point becomes that the polarization is essentially one-sided, with liberals rightfully upset at the rightward push of the country and their own party while conservatives have less reason to be upset, as liberals move to the right and the left is made completely irrelevant. Of course, when you offer nothing but obstruction and critique without any solutions, you must find ways to galvanize your supporters – and a common enemy is one of the easiest ways (even if that enemy doesn’t really exist). By the way, the last chart is fascinating, as it shows that half of the country’s population exists in just 146 counties, with most of these urban populations more liberal than their smaller, and much vaster, neighbors.

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