Friday, June 8, 2012

The Growth of Political Polarization in America

In recent years, particularly as both Canada and the United States have entered their respective federal election cycles, it seems to me that I've noticed a dramatic increase in political polarization in both nations.  Right hates left and accuses them of being just about everything from neo-Nazis to socialists to libtards among other things and the left returns the favour with other equally creative descriptors that are too numerous to mention.  All you have to do is read through the comments section below items in your daily online newspaper edition to see what I mean.  I've always wondered if it is just my imagination or if the political sphere really is becoming increasingly polarized along party lines?

The fine folks at the Pew Research Centre recently answered this question for me with their "Trends in American Values; 1987 - 2012: Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush, Obama Years" publication.  Over the past 25 years, Pew has asked the same 48 values questions to a randomly selected group of Americans who provide the pollsters with their political party of preference; in the 2012 survey, a total of 3008 adults were asked the same set of questions that Pew has asked on 14 other occasions.  The survey covers the public's attitudes on the performance and role of government, national security, labor, business, equal opportunity, the environment and other issues.  Please note that the Pew report is extremely detailed and that I will only be covering the basic premise of polarization.  If you wish to read more detail about each of the issues covered in the poll, I would ask that you click on the link above to access the entire report.

Let's get to the results of the poll.  Here is a summary graph showing the growing partisan gap over the 25 year period as measured by the differences in the responses to the 48 values questions:

Since 2002, the differences in viewpoints on the key issues between Republicans and Democrats has risen from 11 percentage points to 18 percentage points.  In the 15 year period prior to 2002, the inter-party differences between those surveyed remained in a constant range of 9 to 11 percentage points; this began to change part way through George Bush II's first term.  To ensure that these changes were due solely to political affiliation, Pew has also examined whether the changes in the differences in responses were related to race, education, income level, religion, education or gender and has noted that there was basically no relationship between these factors and the change in the degree of polarization since each factor remained constant over the 25 year period.

Let's take a quick look at where the biggest differences now lie as shown on this bar graph:

The light blue bars show the difference in opinion on each issue as polled in 1987 and the dark blue bars show the change in the difference in 2012.  For example, in 1987, the difference between Republican and Democrat respondents regarding support for tougher environmental laws was 5 percentage points; basically, both sides of the spectrum felt the same about the issue.  This had risen to 39 percentage points by 2012 with only 47 percent of Republicans supporting tougher laws compared to nearly twice as many Democrats who supported stricter environmental laws.  This is one of the most pointed areas of difference between the two sides of the political spectrum.  

You'll notice that the difference between the 1987 and 2012 polling results is quite marked for some issues, particularly immigration, support for a government social safety net, labor unions, immigration, religiousity and the scope and performance of government.  It is these issues where the divide between Republican and Democrat voters is becoming increasingly polarized.

Overall, over the 25 year period, Republicans have become increasingly convinced that a minimalistic role of government is important and their lack of support for environmental issues has grown markedly as noted above.  Among Republicans, conservatives now outnumber moderates by a two-to-one margin.  In sharp contrast, Democrats have become more socially liberal and secular in their belief system.  Among Democrats, there are roughly equal numbers of those who define themselves as liberal Democrats and those who are moderate Democrats.  As well, even though many Americans have given up their specific identity as a member of one party or another, preferring to term themselves "independent", these independents also show increasingly strong leanings toward one viewpoint or another.

While it's all fun and games to play the game that politicians try to lure us into playing, I've always believed one thing; politicians of all stripes do not necessarily have the good of their constituents at heart no matter how hard they may try to convince us otherwise.  Go ahead, call me a cynic.  Politicians generally choose to vote along partisan lines rather than reflecting the will of those who voted them into office.  It's left up to us to stand up for what's right for all voters by holding politicians accountable for the laws that they pass and the decisions that they make.  It should not be us pitting ourselves against our fellow voters.  This is why buying into the political games that politicians are using to divide and conquer the voting public seems like such a waste of our energy and our time.

The Pew report is fascinating for one reason, it has found a means to quantify the growing political chasm that is dividing the United States, an issue that many of us had suspected all along.  Now we know that it's a fact.


  1. At the time of election in any country it is must that different parties begins their campaigns for their victory purpose .You have said right and have posted very well and so informative here.
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  2. Get rid of that first spam comment.

    Do you just blame the politicians? I'm convinced that the rise of a certain news channel in the US has a lot to do with it, along with a certain overweight radio pundit. It's hard to think of a bigger source of polarization.

    1. Really? Did you forget about Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater?

    2. If it wasn't for free talk radio, the US would be much like Europe, and everyone would basically think the same and hold to Leftism. (I listen to Dennis Prager, though)
      Personally I think the polarization has in part to do with how blatantly the Left has failed, and the evidence is now in.
      You've(the Left)controlled most of the educating of our kids for 40+ years now. You've near decimated it. You've controlled the communities of the poorest of the poor, and they are now war zones and there are more poor proportionately; and their family cohesiveness is worse than anyone would have dreamed possible. You've supported more and more radical (and disgusting) policies., like all 9 months abortions, teaching gay sex to kids, etc. You've grown the power of the centralized State to unprecedented levels. We conservatives & Libertarians have every reason to be upset with the Left. The Left has increased suffering, cruelty and death, and nearly wiped out even the concept of dignity out of the cultural ether. Leftism is an utter failure.
      Oh, and Leftism is responsible for at least 100 million murdered and force starved in the 20th century alone. Oh, and the Left were warned in the 70's that if they banned DDT people would die en mass in Africa, and they did not care, and said do it anyway! To date, 40 million are dead because of the American Left; mostly children.

    3. "Conservatism is not the doctrine of the intellectual elite or of the more intelligent segments of the population, but the reverse. By every measure available to us, conservative beliefs are found most frequently among the uninformed, the poorly educated, and the less intelligent"
      (McClosky, H. Conservatism and Personality. American Political Science Review, 52, 27-45.).n

    4. Lol., as written by a leftist, obviously. Yet unfortunately, for what you'd like to believe, the evidence is against you. On our side we have major commentators like Thomas Sowell, Dennis Prager, Walter Williams, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Jonah Goldberg and on and on. Very, obviously intelligent and thoughtful people. On your side, for columnists or thinkers, you leftists have...err..whom exactly? Peggy Noonan? Some comedians? Certainly you don't compare people like Krugman to Walter Williams. Krugman simply repeats his same column ever time, insisting we should spend more of other people's earning to grow the government and "stimulate" the economy lol.
      It reminds me of how you leftists called beautiful, decent people like my mom in the tea party, dehumanizing, disgusting names for two years. Yet when you leftists started your own protests, within days there was already more evidence of low class, even racist and criminal behaviour on your side. You guys project, and often are what you hate. As in this example. You are accusing me of being stupid, (since I believe in Americanism rather than leftism...mutually exclusive, but distinct ideologies., ie. why we left Europe lol;) yet we see that it is you who have not thought this through. (Unless you can match up the leftist thinkers with the major conservative thinkers in the cultural ether; which you cannot.

      "the bigger the government the smaller the citizen."
      Dennis Prager

    5. "You've(the Left)controlled most of the educating of our kids for 40+ years now. You've near decimated it. You've controlled the communities of the poorest of the poor, and they are now war zones and there are more poor proportionately..."

      Nice try, except I'm Canadian. You know, a country that you guys often call "leftist", yet we have far better education and far lower crime than in your country. Look it up. So don't blame me for your problems.

      "Really? Did you forget about Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater?"

      Goldwater and Reagan? I was just a kid. A Canadian kid. AND, if you look at the chart with the data, this trend is taking place long after Reagan left office.

    6. You wrote: "Nice try, except I'm Canadian. You know, a country that you guys often call "leftist", yet we have far better education and far lower crime than in your country. Look it up. So don't blame me for your problems."

      Nice try, but you're ignoring context, and so truth. Why? You must know that the Left in America has educated most of our kids, and been in near total control of education for over 40 years now. (since at least Carter and the start of the public teacher's unions).
      It's the same with crime. The rampent crime that does happen in the States is near exclusively in areas, cities, communities, etc. that are and have been controlled by Leftists (Or, let's say those who make the decisions, 98% of the time vote for one party over the other. But I am talking about those who hold to the values, beliefs, faiths, dogmas, etc. of the ideology called Leftism.)

      You are also forgetting that much of Canada's cultural reality (and achievement culturally)is from and living off the fumes of a distinctly Christian and conservative history and culture, which the secular Left vehemently, daily rejects outright.

      Also, I don't get your point at all in mentioning Goldwater and Reagan. They were great, reasonable and good Americans who believed in Americanism over Leftism. (ie. prioritizing individual liberty over our decent instinct for egalitarianism...growing the State.) Your perception and feelings response to their names, have largely been shaped for you by a culture which is overwhelmingly secular Left, or statist, or collectivist, or marxist, or socialist, etc. and so *must* demonize the person-hood of those people to stop their ideas getting out.

      The fact is, they were right. The bigger the government the smaller the citizen. The smaller the community, and country.

      And let's not forget that much of Canada's success in the last few years has to do with having a Conservative PM in office who is similar to those guys you demonize, in their value system. He is more an American, in his value system, than much of your country., lol. :)

  3. When Reagan blew up the Fairness Doctrine and talk radio politics became a home for rightwing idiots like limabaugh giving opinion for profits, that was the beginning of the end for intelligent political discourse. And its not as if the right wing dominance of talk radio has changed the elections, because since the late 80s, there have been two repubs in the white house and two dems. but conservatives are verbal bomb throwers who don't deal in nuance but shallow ideas that appeal to people's worst sides, racism, sexism, etc. It's loud noise for dumb people. the American Idol of radio. but it makes a ton of money being stupid and shallow and appealing to a non-existant black and white world. Rush Limbaugh has done more to f up this country.

    1. many time have you actually listened to Rush you dont even know what station he is on. The rascists, sexists, etc, etc, exist in the dem party. why dont you try restricting commentary to topics you actually have some knowledge of.

    2. tim...the dim one...pity such a loser

    3. The reason the Left failed in their trying to compete with talk radio, is that leftism is emotion based. You need to manipulate feelings, contrary to logic, and truth, so reason itself becomes a threat. With talk radio, you cannot control the narrative from people like me. Yet to the real point, there is *nothing* stopping you leftists from competing with Dennis Prager and similar, except what I've just said. You cannot stand this, and so call names to dehumanize the people and so distract from actual argument. It is pathetic, and reveals a weak and intellectually dishonest thinker. Shame on you.

  4. It's interesting reading some of the knuckle-dragging postings here particularly the mind-numbingly crass posting of 2 July from "anon" (shame you've not got the guts, honesty and integrity to put your real name to your posting isn't it?!) when this ape stated: "P.S.
    Oh, and Leftism is responsible for at least 100 million murdered and force starved in the 20th century alone..." Using the same blinkered and false logic, one could blame the right for Nazism and for the tens of millions of deaths arising from their excesses. This game of tit for tat can go on ad nauseam except that it is largely meaningless when played without reference to any historical context.

    1. You should be ashamed of yourself for denying the dignity of the truth to those 100 million + that were murdered and force starved; re Anon's reminder. Stalin and co. (20 to 50 million depending on time line) was an ardent Leftist, in every sense of the word. He deliberately went after believers and those who supported Americanism, especially. Mao, the greatest mass murderer in human history (Mao, the Untold Story on Amazon by two 75 million people murdered and force starved) was also a Leftist, and outspoken Communist. So was Pol Pot, and Ho. Hitler was *anything* but a small government conservative. You Leftists just love to ry and put him in the Libertarian's camp, yet the truth is that he was all about growing the power of the centralized government just like any Leftist, except he was also a racist and an occultist. Point was, he acted like a Leftist in policy (furthering gun control, growing the size and power of the State.) Amd Anon's DDT scolding of the murderous Left, was absolutely, horrifically correct. Are you ready to apologize and hang your head perpetually in shame? They were mostly children, you know, who died! And at any given moment, during Mao's reign (You know, the guy you leftists name restaurants after) tens of thousands of parents were eating their dead children. Your precious, sacred even (to you) Leftism, literally brings hell on earth. And I'd bet my car you are not man enough to admit it.

    2. P.S.
      And you Leftists are responsible for the genocidal nightmare that happened just after the Vietnam war, too. You statist kept shouting about giving peace a chance, so when the Left took over Congress, and lame duck Pres Ford (just after Nixon) had no power to deny them, you abandoned the French Peace accords and the South Vietnamese. Between Ho and Pol Pot (One of the very few Marxist educated Cambodians) went on to slaughter, drown and starve millions. These Communists gave your peace a chance all right. And again, it was hell on earth. Democrats have started most of the wars in the United States' history, and you have cause the most increase in suffering, cruelty and death on earth, and a relatively unprecedented decrease in prosperity for your own people. You have controlled the educating our kids for 40+ years, and controlled the communities of the poorest of the poor for just as long. The Left has utterly, inexorably failed. The evidence is in.

  5. It's strange that people have polarized so much since the 1980's. With the exception of NPR, US news stations now spout either left or right biased opinions like they are facts. It's easy to catch; simply ask your self, did you learn anything new (new information) from the program you just watched or heard beyond the headline? In most cases, no. So, I think the polarization is probably due to the political discussions forgoing informing the public of the actual debate on hand, including BOTH perspectives, and what each perspective thinks is important. Pundits on both sides of the aisle should be side-lined for more balanced and informative coverage of specific news and current issues, instead of giving us sound bite sophism.

  6. ... The rampent crime that does happen in the States is near exclusively in areas, cities, communities, etc. that are and have been controlled by Leftists ...

    The ten most violent states per capita: Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Tennessee, Louisiana. 9 conservative states and one swing state.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I think you will find that most of the crime in these states occurs in the inner cities which are controlled mostly by, wait for it, liberals.