The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Everything you need to know about our polarized politics (in the palm of your hand)

(Photo by John Sides)
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In Jonathan Chait’s interview with departing White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer in New York magazine, Chait describes how the Obama administration “lost its illusions” about overcoming partisan polarization.

“I think [Obama] believes, and I certainly believe, that while we can always do better, this is a case where structural forces are the large actor here,” he told me. Pfeiffer cited three of them. The first is rising polarization—“the great sorting,” as he called it—which, over a period of decades, has driven white conservatives out of the Democratic Party and moderates out of the Republican Party, creating two ideologically homogeneous political organizations.

This is quite a belated discovery of well-established finding in political science.  As I’ve noted before, the Obama administration has been remarkably slow to understand the nature and origins of our polarized politics.

Here’s a new resource on that subject. We’re pleased to announce the first book based on content from The Monkey Cage: “Political Polarization in American Politics.” The book is based on the many contributions to our series on American political polarization in January-February 2014, and edited by Dan Hopkins and me.

As Dan and I write in the introduction:

The result is a collection of pieces from leading experts on polarization that cover nearly every facet of the issue: how American politics became more polarized over time, how much that trend is manifest in different places (Congress, state legislatures, activists, and citizens), what factors are driving that trend, and what reforms might mitigate it.
These pieces puncture some of the myths that frequently appear in casual punditry about polarization—such as the notion that it’s mostly driven by politicians who simply don’t like each other, or that we can blame it primarily on partisan news media. Instead, polarization has deeper structural and historical roots. Indeed, it may even be the norm in American politics. As such, there are no easy solutions—certainly none as easy as having politicians sit down to dinner with each other.

Below is a list of the chapters and contributors.  It might be a bit late for Obama, but we hope that you’ll find the book worth reading.

Table of Contents

  • What we know and don’t know about our polarized politics—Nolan McCarty

How are we polarized?

  • Partisan warfare is the problem—Sean Theriault
  • How U.S. state legislatures are polarized and getting more polarized—Boris Shor
  • Our politics is polarized on more issues than ever before—Thomas Carsey and Geoffrey Layman
  • How politically moderate Americans? Less than it seems—Christopher Hare and Keith Poole
  • Americans aren’t polarized, just better sorted—Morris Fiorina and Samuel Abrams
  • Are politicians and activists reliably ‘more extreme’ than voters? A skeptical perspective– David Broockman
  • Party polarization is making us more prejudiced—Lilliana Mason
  • Politics stops at the water’s edge? Not recently—Robert Lieber

Why are we polarized?

  • The two key factors behind our polarized politics—Jeff Stonecash
  • American politics is more competitive than ever, and that’s making partisanship worse—Frances Lee
  • How race and religion have polarized American voters—Alan Abramowitz
  • How ideological activists constructed our polarized parties—Hans Noel
  • How better educated whites are driving political polarization—Andrew Gelman
  • Are Fox and MSNBC polarizing America?—Matthew Levendusky
  • Why you shouldn’t blame polarization on partisan news—Kevin Arceneaux
  • The media make us think we’re more polarized than we really are—Matthew Levendusky and Neil Malhotra

Polarization Abroad

  • Sure, Congress is polarized. But other legislatures are more so—David Brady
  • Canada is polarizing—and it’s because of the parties—Richard Johnston
  • In Britain, polarization could be the solution—Rob Ford

What Can Be Done?

  • Our politics may be polarized, but that’s nothing new—David Brady and Hahrie Hahn
  • Polarization in Congress has risen sharply. Where is it going next?—Christopher Hare, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal
  • Can young voters break the cycle of polarization?—Robert Shapiro
  • How to fix our polarized politics? Strengthen political parties—Richard Pildes
  • Our political parties are network, not fragmented—Seth Masket
  • Gridlock is bad. The alternative is worse—Morris Fiorina