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Polarization and American Politics: Is there a Center?

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Presentation on theme: "Polarization and American Politics: Is there a Center?"— Presentation transcript:

1 Polarization and American Politics: Is there a Center?

2 Polarization Argument Few moderates in electorate (is this true?) Partisanship plays greater role in mass voting Partisanship plays greater role in Congress Party candidates stake out more clear ideological differences “ Culture war, ” Red v. Blue nation, etc.

3 The Electorate, 1974 Ideological self-placement of partisans. Percent w/in each group

4 The Electorate in 2004 Ideological self-placement of partisans. Percent w/in each group

5 Polarized Partisans & Elites Partisans “ sorting themselves ” Gradual realignments since 1968 Demise of southern Democrats Demise of New England Republicans Transition from economic to social issue divisions Institutions should reflect polarization

6 percent Year Party Unity in US House Floor Votes, % of Republicans voting with party on such votes % of Democrats voting with party on such votes proportion of all floor votes with majority of one party against majority of the other

7 GOP trends since 1974 Ideological self-placement of Republicans (excluding leaners)

8 Dem trends since 1974 Ideological self-placement of Democrats (excluding leaners)

9 Polarization, 109th Congress Number of seats; classified by DW-Nom member ’ s voting score

10 Feelings about 'opposite' party's presidential candidate (thermometer scores) Graph plots trends in Democratic identifiers’ feelings about Republican presidential candidates and Republican identifiers feelings about Democratic presidential candidates.

11 Gap between Democrats and Republicans' Feelings toward Republican candidates for Congress. Graph plots the gap between Democrats feeling thermometer ratings of Republican candidates, and Republican’s scores about Republican candidates.

12 When seen this way: Evidence of growing Polarization Partisan voters more partisan Partisan representatives more partisan But what about every one else Independents?

13 Another Picture of Electorate Retreat from parties and party system ( dealingment ): More independents Independents qualitatively different than partisans Little mass support for two-party system Polarization an artifact of electoral system (safe seats & where people live…)

14 The Electorate, 1974 ‘ everyone ’ Ideological self-placement of ‘ everyone ’. Percent w/in each group

15 A Centered Electorate, 2004? ‘ everyone ’ Ideological self-placement of ‘ everyone ’. Percent w/in each group

16 The Electorate in 2004 Ideological self-placement of ‘ everyone ’. Proportion of electorate Moderate Independents 26% of electorate (largest block)

17 Independents, Responses to initial NES question, “ Generally speaking….. ”

18 Independents, since 1974 Ideological self-placement of independents (including leaners)

19 2008: The Electorate 40% (plurality of Americans identify as independent) 40% of independents (who respond) ID as “ moderate ” “ middle ” 25% of all Americans (who respond) ID as “ moderate ” “ middle ” 22% ID as “ liberal ” 32% ID as “ conservative ”

20 Change since 1974 More GOP conservatives in Congress More liberal Democrats in Congress Fewer Democrats and Republicans in the electorate Polarization without partisans Without meaningful political competition

21 Reform Goals 50 yrs ago: Build Responsible Parties 1950s, Problem: weak, incoherent parties, lack of accountability 1950s Reform goals Cohesive, ideologically distinct parties Party unity in legislature Greater party role in campaign finance Closed nominations (no blanket primary) Rank and file partisans select conv. delegates Greater role of policy in (national) campaigns

22 Responsible Party Model APSA report also noted: End one party rule that renders elections meaningless in much of nation End electoral college that renders elections meaningless in much of nation

23 Decline of Competition, US House Proportion seats won with less than 5% margin Year Proportion of House seats won by 5% or less

24 Incumbent Victory Margins: Year GOPMargin DemMargin

25 Representation and Competition Jan Dec 2006, by type of district. (109th Cong)

26 Party Discipline w/o Competition High levels of cynicism about politics –43% agree, ‘ people have no say ’ in 2004 –27% agreed ‘ people have no say ’ in 1960 –56% agree ‘ elected officials don ’ t care ’ in 2004 –25% agreed officials don ’ t care in 1960 Decline in turnout (?)

27 Are these trends related? Parties are now much more cohesive: Soft money, fundraising post BCRA Congressional floor voting discipline Party leaders (in Govt.) more power Activists dominate presidential nominations Politics, media more partisan, more polarized Electoral competition often meaningless (swing, safe seats) Fewer partisans, engagement with politics down

28 Public Views of Elections & Parties Less than 1/3 support maintaining two party system Few think that elections make government pay attention Turnout stagnant (down in north) despite fewer barriers

29 Do Elections Matter? Trends in responses to NES q; Do elections make govt pay attn?

30 Do Elections Matter? Growing cynicism & low efficacy about elections Pre-dates 2000 election disaster Pre-dates recently lobbying scandal Unlikely to be affected by HAVA like reforms

31 Do Elections Matter How honest vote counting (% very dishonest, 2004): US23% Venezuela18% Taiwan16% Mexico13% Philippines12% S Africa 8% Bulgaria 8% Slovakia 7% Chile 6% Russia 5% PR, PO, JP, SW, SK, AU, GB NE, CA, FN, NZ, NO lt 1%

32 What problem should election reforms target? “ faith in elections ” “ public trust ” “ have elections express will of the people ” engagement with representative democracy participation polarization w/o partisans, w/o competition

33 Make Elections Worth Stealing Assume the ‘ perfect ’ election under HAVA - type reforms polling places, early voting, registration…. Assume just one candidate has a chance to win …. Will HAVA reforms affect anything?

34 Make Elections Worth Stealing If you build it, they will come… Electoral competition -> representation of ‘ center ’, median Electoral competition -> alter composition of electorate Electoral competition -> interest, learning, participation Electoral competition -> accountability, change in govt. Electoral competition -> over crowded polling locations, more Florida 2000, cheating, etc.

35 Larger Questions How much should government & elections represent those care the least about politics? Will more competition make people upset? How much does political apathy is due to the dysfunctional aspects of institutions? What reforms?


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