Polarization In Congress
Why are American Politics more polarizing than ever before? - VisualPolitik EN
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Many pieces of legislation were passed in the s and s with reasonably high levels of support from both parties. Most members of Congress had relatively moderate voting records, with regional differences within parties that made bipartisanship on many issues more likely. Cross-party cooperation on these issues was fairly frequent. But in the past few decades, the number of moderates in both houses of Congress has declined. This has made it more difficult for party leadership to work together on a range of important issues, and for members of the minority party in Congress to find policy agreement with an opposing party president. The past thirty years have brought a dramatic change in the relationship between the two parties as fewer conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans have been elected to office.
As political moderate s , or individuals with ideologies in the middle of the ideological spectrum, leave the political parties at all levels, the parties have grown farther apart ideologically, a result called party polarization. In other words, at least organizationally and in government, Republicans and Democrats have become increasingly dissimilar from one another. In the party-in-government, this means fewer members of Congress have mixed voting records; instead they vote far more consistently on issues and are far more likely to side with their party leadership. Either they are becoming independents, or they are participating only in the general election and are therefore not helping select party candidates in primaries.
The number of moderates has dropped since as both parties have moved toward ideological extremes. What is most interesting about this shift to increasingly polarized parties is that it does not appear to have happened as a result of the structural reforms recommended by APSA. Rather, it has happened because moderate politicians have simply found it harder and harder to win elections.
There are many conflicting theories about the causes of polarization, some of which we discuss below. But whatever its origin, party polarization in the United States does not appear to have had the net positive effects that the APSA committee was hoping for. With the exception of providing voters with more distinct choices, positives of polarization are hard to find. The negative impacts are many. For one thing, rather than reducing interparty conflict, polarization appears to have only amplified it. For example, the Republican Party or the GOP, standing for Grand Old Party has historically been a coalition of two key and overlapping factions: pro-business rightists and social conservatives.
The GOP has held the coalition of these two groups together by opposing programs designed to redistribute wealth and advocating small government while at the same time arguing for laws preferred by conservative Christians. But it was also willing to compromise with pro-business Democrats, often at the expense of social issues, if it meant protecting long-term business interests. Recently, however, a new voice has emerged that has allied itself with the Republican Party.
Born in part from an older third-party movement known as the Libertarian Party, the Tea Party is more hostile to government and views government intervention in all forms, and especially taxation and the regulation of business, as a threat to capitalism and democracy. It is less willing to tolerate interventions in the market place, even when they are designed to protect the markets themselves. Although an anti-tax faction within the Republican Party has existed for some time, some factions of the Tea Party movement are also active at the intersection of religious liberty and social issues, especially in opposing such initiatives as same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
Although the Tea Party is a movement and not a political party, 86 percent of Tea Party members who voted in cast their votes for Republicans. Vying for the Republican nomination, presidential candidates Ted Cruz a and John Kasich b , like many other Republicans, signed a pledge not to raise taxes if elected. Movements on the left have also arisen. The Occupy Movement believed the recession was caused by a failure of the government to properly regulate the banking industry.
The Occupiers further maintained that the government moved swiftly to protect the banking industry from the worst of the recession but largely failed to protect the average person, thereby worsening the growing economic inequality in the United States. While the Occupy Movement itself has largely fizzled, the anti-business sentiment to which it gave voice continues within the Democratic Party, and many Democrats have proclaimed their support for the movement and its ideals, if not for its tactics.
Their popularity, and the growing visibility of race issues in the United States, have helped sustain the left wing of the Democratic Party. To date, however, the Occupy Movement has had fewer electoral effects than has the Tea Party. By most measures, the U. Congress has passed fewer pieces of legislation, confirmed fewer appointees, and been less effective at handling the national purse than in recent memory. If we define effectiveness as legislative productivity, the th Congress — passed pieces of substantive legislation not including commemorative legislation, such as bills proclaiming an official doughnut of the United States. The th Congress — passed such pieces of legislation. By —, the total had fallen to Shutdowns occur when Congress and the president are unable to authorize and appropriate funds before the current budget runs out.
This is now an annual problem. While any particular trend can be the result of multiple factors, the decline of key measures of institutional confidence and trust suggest the negative impact of polarization. Scholars agree that some degree of polarization is occurring in the United States, even if some contend it is only at the elite level. But they are less certain about exactly why, or how, polarization has become such a mainstay of American politics. Several conflicting theories have been offered. The first and perhaps best argument is that polarization is a party-in-government phenomenon driven by a decades-long sorting of the voting public, or a change in party allegiance in response to shifts in party position.
Since parties are bottom-up institutions, this meant local issues dominated elections; it also meant national-level politicians typically paid more attention to local problems than to national party politics. But over the past several decades, voters have started identifying more with national-level party politics, and they began to demand their elected representatives become more attentive to national party positions. One example of the way social change led to party sorting revolves around race.
The Democratic Party returned to national power in the s largely as the result of a coalition among low socio-economic status voters in northern and midwestern cities. These new Democratic voters were religiously and ethnically more diverse than the mostly white, mostly Protestant voters who supported Republicans. These politicians agreed with other Democrats on most issues, but they were more evangelical in their religious beliefs and less tolerant on racial matters.
The federal nature of the United States meant that Democrats in other parts of the country were free to seek alliances with minorities in their states. But in the South, African Americans were still largely disenfranchised well after Franklin Roosevelt had brought other groups into the Democratic tent. The Democratic alliance worked relatively well through the s and s when post-Depression politics revolved around supporting farmers and helping the unemployed.
But in the late s and early s, social issues became increasingly prominent in national politics. Southern Democrats, who had supported giving the federal government authority for economic redistribution, began to resist calls for those powers to be used to restructure society. At the same time social issues were turning the Solid South towards the Republican Party, they were having the opposite effect in the North and West. Moderate Republicans, who had been champions of racial equality since the time of Lincoln, worked with Democrats to achieve social reform. A good example was Senator Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican who represented Pennsylvania and ultimately switched to become a Democrat before the end of his political career.
A second possible culprit in increased polarization is the impact of technology on the public square. Before the s, most people got their news from regional newspapers and local radio stations. While some national programming did exist, most editorial control was in the hands of local publishers and editorial boards. These groups served as a filter of sorts as they tried to meet the demands of local markets. As described in detail in the media chapter, the advent of television changed that. Television was a powerful tool, with national news and editorial content that provided the same message across the country.
The expansion of news coverage to cable, and the consolidation of local news providers into big corporate conglomerates, amplified this nationalization. Average citizens were just as likely to learn what it meant to be a Republican from a politician in another state as from one in their own, and national news coverage made it much more difficult for politicians to run away from their votes. The information explosion that followed the heyday of network TV by way of cable, the Internet, and blogs has furthered this nationalization trend. A final possible cause for polarization is the increasing sophistication of gerrymandering , or the manipulation of legislative districts in an attempt to favor a particular candidate. Taking extreme or one-sided positions on a large number of issues would be hazardous for a member who needs to build a diverse electoral coalition.
But if the district has been drawn to favor a particular group, it now is necessary for the elected official to serve only the portion of the constituency that dominates. This cartoon, which inspired the term gerrymander, was printed in the Boston Gazette on March 26, , after the Massachusetts legislature redistricted the state to favor the party of the sitting governor, Elbridge Gerry. Gerrymandering is a centuries-old practice. There has always been an incentive for legislative bodies to draw districts in such a way that sitting legislators have the best chance of keeping their jobs. But changes in law and technology have transformed gerrymandering from a crude art into a science.
Supreme Court in Before then, it was common for many states to practice redistricting , or redrawing of their electoral maps, only if they gained or lost seats in the U. House of Representatives. This can happen once every ten years as a result of a constitutionally mandated reapportionment process, in which the number of House seats given to each state is adjusted to account for population changes. But if there was no change in the number of seats, there was little incentive to shift district boundaries. After all, if a legislator had won election based on the current map, any change to the map could make losing seats more likely.
Even when reapportionment led to new maps, most legislators were more concerned with protecting their own seats than with increasing the number of seats held by their party. As a result, some districts had gone decades without significant adjustment, even as the U. By the early s, some electoral districts had populations several times greater than those of their more rural neighbors. However, in its one-person-one-vote decision in Reynolds v. Several states therefore had to make dramatic changes to their electoral maps during the next two redistricting cycles — and — Map designers, no longer certain how to protect individual party members, changed tactics to try and create safe seat s so members of their party could be assured of winning by a comfortable margin.
The basic rule of thumb was that designers sought to draw districts in which their preferred party had a 55 percent or better chance of winning a given district, regardless of which candidate the party nominated. Of course, many early efforts at post- Reynolds gerrymandering were crude since map designers had no good way of knowing exactly where partisans lived. At best, designers might have a rough idea of voting patterns between precincts, but they lacked the ability to know voting patterns in individual blocks or neighborhoods.
They also had to contend with the inherent mobility of the U. Designers were often forced to use crude proxies for party, such as race or the socio-economic status of a neighborhood. Some maps were so crude they were ruled unconstitutionally discriminatory by the courts. Examples of gerrymandering in Texas, where the Republican-controlled legislature redrew House districts to reduce the number of Democratic seats by combining voters in Austin with those near the border, several hundred miles away.
Today, Austin is represented by six different congressional representatives. Proponents of the gerrymandering thesis point out that the decline in the number of moderate voters began during this period of increased redistricting. A second advance in redistricting, via computer-aided map making, truly transformed gerrymandering into a science. Refined computing technology, the ability to collect data about potential voters, and the use of advanced algorithms have given map makers a good deal of certainty about where to place district boundaries to best predetermine the outcomes. These factors also provided better predictions about future population shifts, making the effects of gerrymandering more stable over time.
Proponents argue that this increased efficiency in map drawing has led to the disappearance of moderates in Congress. According to political scientist Nolan McCarty , there is little evidence to support the redistricting hypothesis alone. First, he argues, the Senate has become polarized just as the House of Representatives has, but people vote for Senators on a statewide basis. There are no gerrymandered voting districts in elections for senators. Research showing that more partisan candidates first win election to the House before then running successfully for the Senate, however, helps us understand how the Senate can also become partisan.
Furthermore, polarization has been occurring throughout the country, but the use of increasingly polarized district design has not. While some states have seen an increase in these practices, many states were already largely dominated by a single party such as in the Solid South but still elected moderate representatives. Oct 08, Relevant PhysicsForums posts Projectile motion — Thinking about forces on a curve ball 5 hours ago.
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