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Why Can't We All Just Get Along? The Reality of a Polarized America

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According to Morris Fiorina, Americans are moderate, tolerant, and ambivalent in their political attitudes. This has always been true and it is, if anything, more true today than in the past. The culture war is almost entirely an elite phenomenon, driven by a small group of activists on the left and right who exert influence far out of proportion to their numbers. It is the elites and activists who are polarized, not the public. In this study we use data from the American National Election Studies and national exit polls to test five major claims made by Fiorina about the state of public opinion in the United States. This evidence indicates that while some of the claims of culture war proponents are overstated, there are deep divisions in America between Democrats and Republicans, between red state voters and blue state voters, and between religious voters and secular voters. These divisions are not confined to a small minority of elected officials and activists - they involve a large segment of the public and they are likely to increase in the future as a result of long-term trends affecting American society.
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Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
The Reality of a Polarized America
Alan AbramowitzKyle L. Saunders
An Article Submitted to
The Forum
Manuscript 1076
Emory University, polsaa@emory.edu
Colorado State University, kyle.saunders@colostate.edu
Copyright c
2005 by the authors. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may
be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written
permission of the publisher, bepress, which has been given certain exclusive rights by the
author.
Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? The
Reality of a Polarized America
Alan Abramowitz and Kyle L. Saunders
Abstract
According to Morris Fiorina, Americans are moderate, tolerant, and ambivalent in
their political attitudes. This has always been true and it is, if anything, more true today
than in the past. The culture war is almost entirely an elite phenomenon, driven by a small
group of activists on the left and right who exert influence far out of proportion to their
numbers. It is the elites and activists who are polarized, not the public. In this study we
use data from the American National Election Studies and national exit polls to test five
major claims made by Fiorina about the state of public opinion in the United States. This
evidence indicates that while some of the claims of culture war proponents are overstated,
there are deep divisions in America between Democrats and Republicans, between red
state voters and blue state voters, and between religious voters and secular voters. These
divisions are not confined to a small minority of elected officials and activists—they involve
a large segment of the public and they are likely to increase in the future as a result of
long-term trends affecting American society.
KEYWORDS: elections, political parties, American voter, partisanship
“Americans are closely divided, but we are not deeply divided, and
we are closely divided because many of us are ambivalent and
uncertain, and consequently reluctant to make firm commitments to
parties, politicians, or policies. We divide evenly in elections or sit
them out entirely because we instinctively seek the center while the
parties and candidates hang out on the extremes (Fiorina 2005, p.
ix.).”
According to Morris Fiorina, all of the talk in recent years about a culture
war and growing polarization in the United States is almost completely off the
mark. Americans, he argues, are moderate, tolerant, and ambivalent in their
political attitudes. This has always been true and it is, if anything, more true today
than in the past. The culture war is almost entirely an elite phenomenon, driven by
asmall group of activists on the left and right who exert influence far out of
proportion to their numbers. It is the elites and activists who are polarized, not the
public.
This is the central argument of Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized
America, a book that has attracted the attention of pundits and journalists as well
as scholars in the short time since its publication (Auster 2004; Brooks 2004;
Muro and Berube 2004; Samuelson 2004; Mink 2004; Page 2005; Meyer 2005;
Eisner 2005). The attention is understandable because Fiorina (along with his co-
authors Samuel Abrams and Jeremy Pope) forcefully challenges the conventional
wisdom among journalists and academics that the United States in the first decade
of the 21st century is a nation deeply divided along partisan, geographic, and
cultural lines (Broder 2000; Harwood and Murray 2002; Lawrence 2002; White
2003; Dionne 2003).
But just because someone challenges the conventional wisdom doesn’t make
him right. In this study we use data from the American National Election Studies
and national exit polls to test five major claims made by Fiorina about the state of
public opinion in the United States. This evidence indicates that while some of the
claims of culture war proponents about deep political divisions among the
American public have been overstated, Fiorina systematically understates the
significance of these divisions. Americans may not be heading to the barricades to
do battle over abortion, gay marriage and other emotionally charged issues as
James Davison Hunter (1995) has suggested, but there are deep divisions between
Democrats and Republicans, between red state voters and blue state voters, and
between religious voters and secular voters. These divisions are not confined to a
small minority of elected officials and activists—they involve a large segment of
the public and they are likely to increase in the future as a result of long-term
trends affecting American society.
1Abramowitz and Saunders: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
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Fiorina’s Five Claims
1. Moderation
The broadest claim made by Fiorina and the one that underlies all of the
others is that the American electorate is basically moderate—the electorate is
closely divided but not deeply divided. Today as in the past, most Americans are
ideological moderates, holding a mixture of liberal and conservative views on
different issues. Even on emotionally charged issues like abortion and gay
marriage, most Americans, according to Fiorina, feel ambivalent. Only a small
minority strongly identify with one side or the other.
2. Partisan Polarization
While differences between Democratic and Republican identifiers on issues
have increased, they are only slightly greater than in the past. Partisan polarization
is largely an elite phenomenon—only a thin layer of elected officials and activists
are truly polarized in their views.
3. Geographical Polarization
Cultural and political differences between red states and blue states are
actually fairly small. There are strongly Republican areas in blue states and
strongly Democratic areas in red states. The similarities between voters in these
two sets of states are much more striking than the differences.
4. Social Cleavages
Divisions within the public based on social characteristics such as age, race,
gender, and religious affiliation have been diminishing. While divisions based on
religious beliefs and practices have increased, they remain modest and have not
supplanted traditional economic divisions as determinants of party identification
or voting behavior.
5. Partisan Gerrymandering
Growing polarization in Congress is due largely to partisan gerrymandering.
The growing proportion of safe Democratic and Republican seats is not a natural
phenomenon but an artificial result of the way political elites have drawn district
lines in recent years to insulate themselves from meaningful competition.
The Evidence
1. Moderation
In order to measure ideological orientations among the American public, we
created a scale based on responses to 16 issues included in the 2004 National
2
Election Study survey. The issues ranged from government responsibility for jobs
and living standards to gay marriage, health insurance, abortion, defense
spending, and gun control. Scores on the original scale ranged from -16 for
respondents who gave liberal responses to all 16 issues to +16 for respondents
who gave conservative responses to all 16 issues. We then recoded the original
33-point scale into an 11-point scale for ease in presentation. Figure 1 displays the
distribution on this 11-point liberal-conservative scale of all respondents in the
2004 NES survey.
Figure 1.
Liberal-Conservative Policy Preferences of Voters in 2004 Election
Source: 2004 National Election Study
Liberal-Conservative Scale
Extreme con
10
9
8
7
Moderate
5
4
3
2
Extreme lib
Percent
25
20
15
10
5
0
The results in Figure 1 show that Fiorina is correct in claiming that most
Americans are ideological moderates. Only a tiny percentage of respondents in
the 2004 NES survey were consistent liberals or consistent conservatives. Almost
half were clustered within one unit of the scale’s mid-point, meaning that they
took about as many conservative positions as liberal positions. These results are
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also consistent with the findings of previous research on American public opinion
going back to the pioneering work of Converse (1964) who found that ideological
constraint was quite low among the general public.
Although ideological constraint appears to be somewhat greater today than
it was during the 1950s and 1960s, ideological consistency is still relatively rare.
But does the fact that most Americans are moderates, or perhaps more accurately,
inconsistent in their political views, mean that the electorate is not polarized? In
order to answer this question, we have to look beyond the overall distribution of
political attitudes in the public to see whether there are major differences in the
political views of various subgroups. It is the existence of subgroup cleavages,
rather than the overall distribution of opinion, that is critical in determining the
extent of ideological polarization in a society.
2. Partisan Polarization
Perhaps the most significant subgroup cleavage in a democracy is that
involving political parties. Fiorina argues that partisan polarization is largely an
elite phenomenon and that there has been only a slight increase in partisan
polarization within the American electorate over the past several decades. Our
evidence does not support either of these claims. The evidence from the 2004
NES survey displayed in Figure 2 shows that partisan polarization is not confined
to a small group of leaders and activists. The ideological preferences of rank-and-
file Democratic and Republican voters actually differed rather sharply.
Democratic voters tended to be quite liberal while Republican voters tend to be
quite conservative. The mean scores on our 11-point ideology scale were 5.0 for
Democratic voters compared with 7.5 for Republican voters. This difference was
highly statistically significant (p < .001). Sixty-three percent of Democratic voters
were on the left side of the scale (1-5) compared with only nine percent of
Republican voters; 78 percent of Republican voters were on the right side of the
scale (7-11) compared with only 18 percent of Democratic voters.
4
Figure 2. Liberal-Conservative Policy Preferences of Voters in 2004
Election by Party Identification
Source: 2004 National Election Study
Liberal-Conservative Scale
Extreme con
10
9
8
7
Moderate
5
4
3
2
Extreme lib
Percent
30
20
10
0
Party Id
Democrat
Republican
Our evidence also indicates that partisan polarization has increased
considerably over the past several decades. Unfortunately, very few issue
questions have been included on a consistent basis in the NES surveys. However,
one question that has been included in every survey since 1972 is liberal-
conservative self-identification. The difference between the mean score of
Democratic identifiers and leaners and the mean score of Republican identifiers
and leaners on the seven-point liberal-conservative identification scale increased
from 0.8 units in 1972 to 1.2 units in 1984, 1.6 units in 1996, and 1.7 units in
2004. Given the limited range of this scale, this is a substantial increase in
polarization—the gap between Democrats and Republicans was more than twice
as large in 2004 as in 1972.
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Figure 3. Average Liberal-Conservative Policy Score of
Democrats and Republicans by Campaign Activity
Source: 2004 National Election Study
Campaign Activities
543210
Average Libcon Scale Score
10
0
-10
Party Id
Democrat
Republican
The results in Figure 3 show that active partisans were much more polarized
than the overall electorate in 2004. This appears to be consistent with Fiorina’s
argument that polarization is an elite phenomenon. Contrary to his argument,
however, these active partisans made up much more than a “thin slice” of the
electorate. Twenty-two percent of all respondents in the 2004 NES survey and 28
percent of all voters in the survey engaged in at least two activities beyond voting.
These were the highest percentages in the history of the NES. Active partisans are
not a small group of left-wing and right-wing extremists. They are a large
minority of both parties’ general election voters and they may well comprise a
majority of both parties’ primary voters (Saunders and Abramowitz 2004).
Our evidence also indicates that active partisans, like rank-and-file partisans,
have become more polarized over time. In fact, the increase in polarization among
active partisans has been even greater than the increase in polarization among
rank-and-file partisans. The difference between the mean score for active
Democrats and active Republicans on the seven-point liberal-conservative
6
identification scale increased from 1.5 units in 1972 to 2.1 units in 1984, 2.4 units
in 1996, and 2.9 units in 2004. As was true for rank-and-file partisans, the
difference was about twice as large in 2004 as in 1972. In fact, rank-and-file
partisans in 2004 were more polarized than active partisans in 1972. The
difference of 2.9 units between the average score of active Democrats and the
average score of active Republicans on the seven-point liberal-conservative
identification scale is quite impressive: 70 percent of active Democrats placed
themselves on the liberal side of the scale compared with only 1 percent of active
Republicans. On the other hand, 89 percent of active Republicans placed
themselves on the conservative side of the scale compared with only 7 percent of
active Democrats.
In addition to the difference in ideological self-identification, there were
dramatic differences between the positions of active Democrats and Republicans
on a wide range of specific issues in 2004. Some of these issue differences are
displayed in Table 1. On every one of the eight issues included in Table 1, active
Democrats were far more liberal than active Republicans. This was true on social
issues, economic issues, and foreign policy issues. The smallest difference, 37
percentage points, was on abortion, an issue highlighted by Fiorina. The largest
difference, 59 percentage points, was on the use of military force vs. diplomacy in
the conduct of foreign policy. Across these eight issues, an average of 65 percent
of active Democrats took the liberal position compared with an average of 18
percent of active Republicans.
Figure 4 displays the trend in the correlation between the seven-point
liberal-conservative identification scale and the seven-point party identification
scale between 1972 and 2004. This graph shows that contrary to the claim that
partisan polarization has increased only slightly, there has actually been a fairly
dramatic increase in the correlation between party identification and ideological
identification since 1972 and especially since 1988. In addition, ideological
identification is itself more strongly correlated with positions on a variety of
issues than in the past. For example, the correlation between the ideological
identification scale and the jobs and living standards scale increased from .25 in
1988 to .43 in 2004, the correlation between the ideological identification scale
and the health insurance scale increased from .23 in 1988 to .44 in 2004 and the
correlation between the ideological identification scale and the 4-point abortion
policy scale increased from .21 in 1988 to .31 in 2004.
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Table 1. Policy Liberalism among Active Partisans in 2004
_________________________________________________________
Issue Democrats Republicans
_________________________________________________________
Abortion 78% 41%
Death Penalty 50% 7%
Diplomacy vs. Force 70% 11%
Environment vs. Jobs 70% 24%
Gay Marriage 67% 15%
Jobs/Living Standards 52% 4%
Health Insurance 66% 15%
Spending/Services 66% 25%
_________________________________________________________
Source: 2004 National Election Study
Note: Active partisans engaged in 2 or more activities beyond voting.
Nof active Democrats is 109. N of active Republicans is 109.
Entries shown are percentages of active Democrats and Republicans
taking liberal position on each issue.
8
Figure 4. Correlation of Party Identification with Liberal-
Conservative Identification, 1972-2004
Year
200420001996199219881984198019761972
Correlation
.6
.5
.4
.3
Note: Correlation coefficient is Pearson’s r based on 7-point party
identification scale and 7-point liberal-conservative identification
scale.
Source: American National Election studies
Differences between Democratic and Republican identifiers on a wide range of
issues have increased substantially over the past three decades. Table 2 displays
the correlations between party identification and positions on six different issues
during 1972-1980, 1984-1992, and 1996-2004: the larger the correlation
coefficient, the greater the degree of partisan polarization on an issue. On every
one of these issues, ranging from jobs and living standards to health insurance to
presidential approval, partisan polarization increased substantially.
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Table 2. Trends in Partisan Polarization on Issues, 1972-2004
_______________________________________________________
Issue 1972-1980 1984-1992 1996-2004
_______________________________________________________
Aid to Blacks .20 .27 .35
Abortion - .03 .08 .18
Jobs/Living Standards .28 .34 .40
Health Insurance .25 .31 .39
Lib/Con Id .42 .49 .62
Presidential Approval .42 .56 .61
Average .26 .34 .43
_______________________________________________________
Note: Entries shown are average correlations (Kendall’s tau) between
issues and party identification (strong, weak, and independent Democrats
vs. strong weak and independent Republicans).
Source: American National Election Studies
Evaluations of presidential performance have become much more divided
along party lines since the 1970s and evaluations of George W. Bush in 2004
were sharply divided along party lines. Ninety-two percent of Republican voters
approved of Bush’s performance and 70 percent strongly approved; in contrast, 86
percent of Democratic voters disapproved of Bush’s performance and 69 percent
strongly disapproved. Evaluations of George W. Bush were more divided along
party lines than those of any president since the NES began asking the
presidential approval question in 1972. The difference between the percentage of
Democratic identifiers and leaners approving of the president's job performance
and the percentage of Republican identifiers and leaners approving of the
president's job performance was 36 points for Richard Nixon in 1972, 42 points
for Jimmy Carter in 1980, 52 points for Ronald Reagan in 1988, 55 points for Bill
Clinton in 1996, and 71 points for George W. Bush in 2004. Thus, the highly
10
polarized evaluations of George Bush in 2004 were not unique—they represented
acontinuation of a trend that goes back at least 30 years.
3. Geographical Polarization
The evidence displayed in Table 3 shows that states have become much
more sharply divided along party lines over the past several decades. While the
2000 and 2004 presidential elections were highly competitive at the national level,
the large majority of states were not competitive. Compared with the presidential
elections of 1960 and 1976, which were also closely contested at the national
level, there were far fewer battleground states in 2000 and 2004 and the
percentage of electoral votes in these battleground states was much smaller. The
average margin of victory at the state level has increased dramatically over time
and far more states with far more electoral votes are now relatively safe for one
party or the other: red states have been getting redder while blue states have been
getting bluer.
Table 3. The Shrinking Battlefield:
AComparison of the 1960, 1976, 2000, and 2004 Presidential Elections
___________________________________________________________
1960 1976 2000 2004
___________________________________________________________
National vote margin 0.2% 2.1% 0.5% 2.5%
Average state margin 8.0% 8.9% 13.8% 14.8%
Number of states that were:
Uncompetitive (10% +) 18 19 29 31
Battlegrounds (0-5%) 24 24 15 12
Electoral votes of:
Uncompetitive states 124 131 314 332
Competitive states 327 337 167 141
_______________________________________________________
Source: Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to U.S. Elections, 4th edition.
For 2004 election: www.uselectionatlas.org.
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In the 2004 presidential election, 38 of 50 states were carried by either
George Bush or John Kerry by a margin of at least six percentage points.1These
states included more than two-thirds of the nation’s voters. Contrary to Fiorina’s
claim that there are few significant differences between red state voters and blue
state voters, the evidence from the 2004 National Exit Poll displayed in Table 4
shows that when we focus on states that supported Bush or Kerry by a margin of
at least six points, there were some dramatic differences between red state voters
and blue state voters. Compared with blue state voters, red state voters were much
more likely to be Protestant, to consider themselves born-again or evangelical
Christians, and to attend religious services at least once per week. They were
much more likely to have a gun owner in their household and much less likely to
have a union member in their household. Red state voters were also much more
likely to take a pro-life position on abortion, to oppose permitting marriage or
civil unions for gay couples, to approve of the war in Iraq, to approve of George
Bush’s job performance, to describe themselves as conservatives, to identify with
the Republican Party and, of course, to vote for George Bush for president.
4. Religious Polarization
It is no coincidence that the largest differences between red state voters and
blue state voters in Table 4 involved their religious beliefs and practices. The
United States is a nation that is increasingly divided along religious lines.
However, the most important religious divide in American politics today is not
between Protestants and Catholics, but between religious voters and secular
voters. Although Americans are much more religious than citizens of other
Western democracies (Dalton 2002, pp. 113-114), evidence from the 2004
National Exit Poll displayed in Figure 5 shows that there is a sharp divide within
the American electorate between religious and secular voters. There is a large
group of voters who report that they attend religious services at least once per
week; there is an equally large group who report that they seldom or never attend
religious services.
1Alist of red states (those carried by Bush by at least 6 points), blue states (those carried by Kerry
by at least 6 points), and purple states (those decided by less than 6 points) is provided in the
appendix.
12
Table 4. A Comparison of Red State Voters and Blue State Voters in 2004
________________________________________________________________
Red State Blue State
Voters Voters Difference
________________________________________________________________
Religion:
Protestant 69% 41% + 28%
Catholic 16% 35% - 19%
Jewish, other, none 15% 24% - 9%
Church Attendance:
Weekly or more 54% 34% + 20%
Seldom, never 32% 53% - 21%
Evangelical, born-again 51% 22% + 29%
Gun owning household 53% 28% + 25%
Union household 16% 31% - 15%
Pro-choice on abortion 46% 69% - 23%
Oppose gay marriage or 51% 26% + 25%
civil unions
Approve of Bush’s job 63% 45% + 18%
performance
Approve of Iraq war 60% 45% + 15%
Conservative identification 41% 27% + 14%
Republican identification 44% 30% + 14%
Voted for Bush 60% 44% + 16%
Source: 2004 National Exit Poll
Note: Red states were carried by George Bush by a margin of at least 6
percentage points; blue states were carried by John Kerry by a margin of at least
6percentage points.
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Figure 5. Frequency of Attendance at Religious Services in the
2004 Electorate
Source: 2004 National Exit Poll
How often do you attend religious services?
Never
Few times a year
Few times a month
Weekly
Weekly +
Percent
30
20
10
0
Among white voters in the United States, religious observance is now highly
correlated with political attitudes and behavior. The evidence displayed in Table
5from the 2004 NEP shows that, contrary to Fiorina’s claim that religious beliefs
and practices do not deeply divide the American electorate, there was a very wide
gulf in political attitudes and behavior between white voters who regularly
attended religious services and those who seldom or never attended religious
services. Not surprisingly, the gap was widest on cultural issues: there was a 47
point difference on the issue of abortion and a 33 point difference on the issue of
gay marriage. However, the gap was very large on other issues as well: 19 points
on the war in Iraq, 24 points on President Bush’s job performance, 25 points on
ideological identification, 23 points on partisan identification, and 25 points on
presidential candidate preference.
14
Table 5. Political Attitudes of Religious and Non-Religious
Whites in 2004
_______________________________________________________
Attend Religious Services
_______________________________
Issue Weekly or More Seldom or
Never
_______________________________________________________
Oppose legal abortion 69% 22%
Oppose marriage or civil 54% 21%
unions for gays
Approve of Iraq war 68% 49%
Approve of Bush job 72% 48%
Conservative identification 49% 24%
Republican identification 55% 32%
Voted for Bush 71% 46%
_______________________________________________________
Source: 2004 National Exit Poll
Contrary to Fiorina’s claim that economic cleavages remain as important or
more important than religious cleavages within the electorate, the evidence
displayed in Table 6 from the 2004 NEP shows that among white voters, two
variables measuring religious beliefs and practices, church attendance and born-
again or evangelical identification, were more strongly correlated with party
identification and presidential candidate choice than any other social
characteristic including income, education, gender, marital status, and union
membership.
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Table 6.
Correlates of Partisanship and Presidential Vote among Whites in 2004
_______________________________________________________
Correlation with
________________________________
Characteristic Party Identification Presidential Vote
_______________________________________________________
Family Income .094 .107
Education -.020 -.077
Marital Status/Married .136 .151
Age -.058 -.021
Gender/Female -.077 -.069
Union Household -.139 -.130
Church Attendance .205 .287
Born Again or Evangelical .219 .280
_______________________________________________________
Note: Correlations are Kendall’s tau. Party identification and presidential
vote coded in Republican direction.
Source: 2004 National Exit Poll
The religious divide within the American electorate is likely to deepen in the
future because secular voters constitute a growing proportion of the electorate and
because religious commitment is increasingly correlated with political attitudes
and behavior. According to NES data, the proportion of Americans giving their
religious affiliation as “other” or “none” increased from 3 percent during the
1950s to 5 percent during the 1960s, 8 percent during the 1970s, 11 percent
during the 1980s, and 15 percent during the 1990s. The same data show that the
correlation between frequency of church attendance and presidential candidate
choice among whites increased from .02 during the 1950s to .03 during the 1960s,
.10 during the 1970s, .08 during the 1980s and .29 during the 1990s. The religious
divide is now much deeper than the class divide in American politics.
5. Partisan Gerrymandering
Fiorina claims that partisan gerrymandering is largely responsible for the
increasing number of safe districts in the House of Representatives. In order to
test this claim, we measured the partisan composition of House districts before
16
and after redistricting based on the normalized presidential vote—the difference
between the Democratic or Republican share of the major party presidential vote
in a district and the Democratic or Republican share of the national major party
presidential vote in the most recent presidential election. Districts that were at
least 10 points more Democratic or Republican than the nation were classified as
safe Democratic or safe Republican districts. Districts that were within 5
percentage points of the nation were classified as competitive. This measure
correlates very strongly with the outcomes of House elections: in 2004 over 95
percent of safe Democratic districts were won by Democratic candidates and over
95 percent of safe Republican districts were won by Republican candidates
(Abramowitz, Alexander, and Gunning 2005).
The evidence displayed in Figure 6 shows that redistricting had very little
effect on the competitiveness of House districts in any of the three recent
redistricting cycles. However, there was a substantial increase in the number of
safe districts and a substantial decrease in the number of competitive districts
between redistricting cycles, especially between 1992 and 2000. House districts
have become less competitive over time, but not because of redistricting
(Abramowitz, Alexander, and Gunning 2005).
It is not just House districts that are becoming less competitive. We have
seen that states have become less competitive since the 1970s and the same trend
is evident at the county level (Bishop 2004). The trend in some states, such as
California, has been quite dramatic. Table 7 compares the competitiveness of
California counties in the 1976 and 2004 presidential elections. In the 1976
presidential election, the large majority of California’s 58 counties were closely
contested and these counties included the large majority of California voters. In
the 2004 presidential election, the large majority of California’s counties were
overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican and these counties included the large
majority of California voters.
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Figure 6. Numbers of Safe and Competitive House Districts
Before and After Redistricting, 1980-2002
Ye a r
200220001992199019821980
220
200
180
160
140
120
100
Safe
Com petitive
Note: Marginal districts are those in which Democratic presidential
candidate’s percentage of major party vote is within 5 points of
national percentage; safe districts are those in which Democratic
presidential candidate’s percentage of major party vote is more
than 10 points above or below national percentage.
Source: Data compiled by authors
18
Table 7. Competitiveness of California Counties in the 1976 and 2004
Presidential Elections
_______________________________________________________
1976 2004
__________________________________________
Margin Counties Voters Counties Voters
_______________________________________________________
LT 10% 46 72% 13 21%
GT 20% 2 8% 36 64%
_______________________________________________________
Source: Data compiled by authors.
Over time, red states, counties, and congressional districts have been getting
redder while blue states, counties, and congressional districts have been getting
bluer. This increasing geographical polarization is not a result of redistricting. It is
aresult of fundamental changes in American society and politics. Internal
migration, immigration, and ideological realignment within the electorate are
producing a nation that is increasingly divided along partisan, ideological, and
religious lines.
Conclusions
The evidence presented in this paper does not support Fiorina’s claim that
polarization is largely a myth concocted by social scientists and media
commentators. While most Americans are moderate in their political views, there
are sharp divisions between supporters of the two major parties that extend far
beyond a narrow sliver of elected officials and activists. Red state voters and blue
state voters differ fairly dramatically in their social characteristics and political
beliefs. Perhaps most importantly, there is a growing political divide in the United
States between religious and secular voters. These divisions are not a result of
artificial boundaries constructed by political elites in search of electoral security.
They reflect fundamental changes in American society and politics that have been
developing for decades and are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
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References
Abramowitz, Alan I., Brad Alexander, and Matthew Gunning. 2005.
“Incumbency, Redistricting, and the Decline of Competition in U.S. House
Elections,” paper delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Political
Science Association, New Orleans, Louisiana, January 6-8.
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20
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21Abramowitz and Saunders: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Produced by The Berkeley Electronic Press, 2005
Appendix: Red, Purple, and Blue States in 2004 National Exit Poll
Red States (21) Purple States (12) Blue States (12)
Alabama Colorado California
Alaska Florida Connecticut
Arizona Iowa Delaware
Arkansas Michigan Illinois
Georgia Minnesota Maine
Idaho Nevada Maryland
Indiana New Hampshire Massachusetts
Kansas New Mexico New Jersey
Kentucky Ohio New York
Louisiana Oregon Rhode Island
Mississippi Pennsylvania Vermont
Missouri Wisconsin Washington
Montana
Nebraska
North Carolina
Oklahoma
South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Virginia
Note: District of Columbia, Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia,
and Wyoming not included in 2004 NEP sample.
22
... Our findings do not support the competing hypothesis that any increase in political polarization over time is paralleled by an increase in the association between closed-mindedness and conservatism. In other words, even though several scholars have documented an increasing polarization of U.S. society (e.g., Abramowitz & Saunders, 2005, 2008Baldassarri & Gelman, 2008;Graham & Valdesolo, 2016), and this may imply an increased recognition of the substantive differences between liberalism and conservatism among the public, conservative identifiers do not appear to have become more closed-minded over time relative to their liberal counterparts. The association has effectively decreased over the period we observed. ...
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