Dr. Helen

Are We More Polarized Politically then Ever?

“Yes,” according to a new book by political science professor James E. Campbell called Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America. From the description:

Many continue to believe that the United States is a nation of political moderates. In fact, it is a nation divided. It has been so for some time and has grown more so. This book provides a new and historically grounded perspective on the polarization of America, systematically documenting how and why it happened.

Polarized presents commonsense benchmarks to measure polarization, draws data from a wide range of historical sources, and carefully assesses the quality of the evidence. Through an innovative and insightful use of circumstantial evidence, it provides a much-needed reality check to claims about polarization. This rigorous yet engaging and accessible book examines how polarization displaced pluralism and how this affected American democracy and civil society.

Polarized challenges the widely held belief that polarization is the product of party and media elites, revealing instead how the American public in the 1960s set in motion the increase of polarization. American politics became highly polarized from the bottom up, not the top down, and this began much earlier than often thought. The Democrats and the Republicans are now ideologically distant from each other and about equally distant from the political center. Polarized also explains why the parties are polarized at all, despite their battle for the decisive median voter. No subject is more central to understanding American politics than political polarization, and no other book offers a more in-depth and comprehensive analysis of the subject than this one.

The book has a chapter looking at the causes of this polarization and points out that people are inclined to see things differently. The author points out data showing that over the past 13 presidential and midterm national elections, from 1982-2012, “liberals were more than twice as likely as conservatives to favor government providing more services, even if it meant an increase in government spending , and conservatives were nearly three time as likely as liberals to favor the government reducing services and spending…” “When government involvement is thought to be warranted, liberals are inclined to use it more aggressively, imposing more requirements and more specifically targeting its application. Conservatives, on the other hand, are disposed to apply governmental power more generally and less intrusively.”

I don’t know, it seems to me from this information that liberals are authoritarians who use the government to control individuals while conservatives tend to believe that the individual knows best which way he or she wants to live his or her life. The latter is always the way to prosperity and freedom, not the former. But then, maybe the liberal goal is not prosperity and freedom, but rather control and power over others. Most people want a master or want to master others, it seems to be the human condition. Liberals can call it social justice, global warming or whatever but it still boils down to control over people. Thank goodness for polarization.