The PJ Tatler

Sign Of Sequester Doom: I Agree With A Political Post At The Atlantic

The headline (nothing to do with sequestration, by the way):

5 False Assumptions Political Pundits Make All the Time

This is a very good piece and I agree with four of the five. The only one I don’t is Number 3-I think “independent” voters are partisan and I’m basing that on many years of political involvement. There has been a distinct preference for one party over the other shown in the voting habits of virtually every “independent” I’ve encountered.

Number 1 was what kept me reading:

1) The electorate is not “polarizing.” It’s “sorting.”

An electorate is “polarized” if voters are increasingly drawn to extremes — the right getting more conservative, the left getting more liberal, and moderates dwindling. An electorate is “sorted” if voters are increasingly settled into ideological camps, that is, conservatives are almost all Republicans, liberals almost all Democrats.

Pundits talk all the time about “polarization,” but it’s not happening. As Fiorina points out, the percentage of Americans who call themselves “moderate” is the same as it was in the 1970s (the American National Election Studies survey has put it at between 20 and 30 percent since 1972). Nor are we more divided when it comes to issues. In the words of a 2012 Pew study, “The way that the public thinks about poverty, opportunity, business, unions, religion, civic duty, foreign affairs, and many other subjects is, to a large extent, the same today as in 1987. The values that unified Americans 25 years ago remain areas of consensus today, while the values that evenly divide the nation remain split.” The commonplace idea that Americans today are irrevocably divided into politically extreme camps just isn’t the case.

What has happened to the American electorate in recent decades is sorting. A few decades ago, there were thriving factions of conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, among both voters and their elected representatives; that is to say, the parties themselves were internally diverse. Nowadays, however, ideological consistency is the rule. This is the real reason behind many phenomena commonly, and incorrectly, attributed to “polarization,” Fiorina points out, such as the massive decline in ticket-splitting. Today, voters are likely to find that all the candidates who agree with their views belong to the same party, whereas in the 1970s, many House and Senate candidates didn’t have much in common with their party’s presidential nominee. Sorting also accounts for voters’ increased party loyalty. They haven’t necessarily become more rigid — they’re just more likely to find all the candidates they support concentrated on one side of the aisle.

Of course, “sorting” doesn’t make for good cable news shouting matches, which in turn don’t make for very good political information.