First, campaign finance laws, as well-intentioned as they may have been, have pushed money away from the political parties — centering forces — and out to ideological interest groups. Politicians face more pressure to please these extreme interests.
Second, balkanized media. It is not just that liberals have MSNBC and the Huffington Post and that conservatives have Fox News; the issue is greater than consuming news through an ideological lens. With few filters on talk radio, Internet sites or the 24/7 cable news shows, those debating the issues often can’t agree on the same set of facts.
Romney lagging with women voters.
Third, the ideological sorting of the parties. Gone are the days of conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans. Now the most liberal Republican in the Senate is more conservative than the most conservative Democrat. This ideological sorting has been reinforced by gerrymandered House districts that leave fewer truly competitive general-election districts.
These factors affect not just elections but also how the House and Senate do business. For most members in both chambers, the most important election is the primary race, and primary voters are reluctant to reward compromise and eager to reward ideological adherence. The pressures that force candidates out to the ideological extremes in elections also discourage bipartisanship. The same factors leading to an increasingly polarized electorate are creating an increasingly polarized Congress.
Note that Snowe did not say she was leaving the Republican Party because it has become too extreme. Nor did she say she was being forced out. She is not leaving the GOP; she’s leaving the Senate. And poisonous partisanship is a bipartisan problem.
The macro factors cannot be changed by one leader — no single person can create a bipartisan or post-partisan Washington. Real change will not occur until voters in both parties say they won’t stand for this anymore. Given the dismal approval rating of Congress and both political parties, there is reason to believe we are nearing that point. The solution begins with voters sending to Washington more pragmatic, results-oriented members who are willing to compromise to get things done.