I will leave the exact numbers to the good folks at PRC, but here's the short version:
While we often hear a great deal in the news about how politically polarized the nation has become, but it's always nice to see some numbers to back up that idea, and the numbers are not good.
Overall, the percentage of Americans who identify as being strongly liberal and strongly conservative have grown over the last decade or so, thus reducing the percentage of Americans who are in the middle (specifically, folks who swing left & right on a fairly equal number of issues). See this great graphic below to illustrate:
Mind you, while having the numbers from the PRC is helpful, we've already seen the signs of this polarization for years now. Here are few examples:
1. Tea Party- The largely successful rise of the Tea Party movement has, for better or worse, forced the GOP to move farther to the right than they traditional were before and while there is some resistance to this (the current "Establishment vs Tea Party" battle we are seeing within the GOP).
2. Death of the Blue Dogs- "Blue Dogs" was the common name for members of the Democratic party that while being largely loyal to their party, had some conservative views (they were generally lock-step with the Democrats on economic issues, but were socially conservative to varying degrees). Before the 2010 elections, there 54 members of the House of Representatives that belonged to this congressional coalition, but only 26 members "survived" the election. This coalition was weakened further in the 2012 elections and whether this coalition will survive the next few election cycles is hard to say..
3. Death of Compromise- As any American with a basic knowledge of American history knows, this nation's government was founded on the concept of compromise and without compromise, the Constitution would never have come into existence. Compromise today however, is seen by both sides are simply giving in to the other side (even if your side is actually getting something out of it), and is often used as political ammunition by the extremes of both parties to squeeze out those who dare advocate such a thing.
Now this sentiment isn't necessarily new, but the strength and pervasiveness of it has grown a great deal over the years. Nobody likes to compromise, but in the past it was always seen as a "necessary evil" to keep the government functioning and get things done.
It's not to say that ALL compromises are good, but to say that ALL compromise with the other side is bad is not only infantile, it's caused our government to grind to halt more times in recent years that in the decades that preceded. Today, the Senate Democrats are afraid to compromise with the GOP because they think it makes them look weak, even if they are the majority, and the same is true of Speaker Boehner in the House. Because of this, it seems that every major piece of legislation is cause for a huge partisan battle that will literally drag on for weeks, months, and even years.
Further, the lack of will for compromise has caused the two major parties to resort to extreme tactics to get their agendas passed because they refuse to work with the other side. Harry Reid has made quite a career of circumventing his GOP counterparts in the Senate, and while this makes him an effective Majority Leader int he Senate, it grows distrusts and outright hatred towards him by the GOP (with good reason)..
So is there a solution to this increasing polarization? Personally, I suspect the answer is no. With both parties being dominated and terrorized by the "Pathetic Partisans" on their extremes (thus making them the majority in time), the likelihood of them cooperating for the better of the whole nation falls with every election cycle...
Kudos again to the Pew Research Center for these great numbers!
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