Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Ideology of Growing Polarization: A Republican Issue

One of “the-lie-is-more-compelling-than-the-truth” stories routinely advanced by the news media is the notion that increased partisanship infects the body politic of Republicans and Democrats alike. Under this view, uncritically advanced on major news networks, is the notion that the current ideological polarization between the Republican and Democratic parties has grown massively over the past decades (TRUE) but that both political parties are equally to blame for it (FALSE).

Perhaps the best rebuttal of this premise is the work of political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson (Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy).  What they demonstrate quite clearly is that Republicans – far from eliciting broad public support for their actions – have managed to eke out victories on issue after issue – when Americans views of their actions range from dubious (see to downright hostile. That rebuttal of the Republican thesis had been recently underscored by Republicans like Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute in his book  (see ). Their point: the Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier in American politics, “unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science.”

These are tough words, but empirically, the evidence that Republicans have moved to the cliff’s edge ideologically while Democrats have retained a largely centrist position is unambiguous. For example, issues like a government “safety net” support for the poor are now extraordinarily divisive – not because registered Democrats have moved leftward in their views, but because Republicans have moved rightward big time. Thus, the PEW Research Center notes that the percent who agree that government should take care of people who can’t take care of themselves has diminished slightly from 79% to 75% among Democrats (between 1987 and 2012), but from 62% to 40% among Republicans, a major downslide. Similarly, the percentage who agree there needs to be stricter laws and regs to protect the environment has remained at the 94% level between 1992 and 2012 among Democrats but slid from 86% to 47% among Republicans. These types of trends characterize many of the social values driven policy issues…and reveal clearly that the oft-stated political divide attributable to both Republicans and Democrats is in fact a Republican “problem.” (see )

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