The Polarization Paradox

Why Hyperpartisanship Strengthens Conservatism and Undermines Liberalism

1. See analysis at the Vote View blog by political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, updated from McCarthy, Nolan, Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal. Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches. Boston, MA: MIT Press, 2006. 

2. For discussion of national and state trends, see Abramowitz, Alan. The Polarized Public? Why American Government Is So Dysfunctional. New York: Pearson, 2012.

3. See analysis and discussion by Abramowitz, Alan. The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and Democracy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009 pp. 35-61.

4. For discussion of elite cues and the branding of political parties in terms of ideology, see Levendusky, Matthew. The Partisan Sort: How Liberals Became Democrats and Conservatives Became Republicans. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 2009 pp. 13-37.

5. See discussion of research in this area by Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. New York: Allen Lane, pp. 72-92.

6. Ibid. pp. 81.

7. This trend is also driven by horse race coverage, which dominates political reporting and commentary.  See reviews by Patterson, Thomas E. 2005. “Of Polls, Mountains: U.S. Journalists and Their Use of Election Surveys.” Public Opinion Quarterly 69, 5: 716-724 and Rosenstiel, Tom. 2005. “Political Polling and the New Media Culture: A Case of More Being Less.” Public Opinion Quarterly 69: 698-715.

8. Maddow, Rachel. The 2010 Theodore H. White Lecture on Press and Politics. Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge MA, 2010.

9. Berry, Jeffrey M. and Sarah Sobieraj. "The Outrage Industry." Paper presented at Going to Extremes: The Fate of the Center in American Politics, conference held by Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, 2008.

10. Sobieraj, Sarah and Jeffrey M. Berry. 2011. "From Incivility to Outrage: Political Discourse in Blogs, Talk Radio, and Cable News." Political Communication 28, 1: 19-41.

11. Maddow, Rachel. The 2010 Theodore H. White Lecture on Press and Politics. Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge MA, 2010.

12. Mutz, Diana. “How the Mass Media Divide Us.” In Nivola, Pietro and Brady, David. W. (eds.). Red and Blue Nation? Vol. 1. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, pp. 223-263.

13. Zengerle, Jason. “In Conversation: Barney Frank.” New York Magazine, April 15, 2012.

14. Their conclusion is based on a comprehensive review of relevant studies, see Donsbach, Wolfgang and Cornelia Mothes. “The Dissonant Self: Contributions from Dissonance Theory to a New Agenda in Studying Political Communication.” In Charles Salmon (Ed.), Communication Yearbook 12, 2012. New York: Blackwell, 2012.  As demonstrated in a series of studies by Natalie Jomini Stroud of the University of Texas, over the course of an election, partisans consume like-minded media and information, which intensifies their opinions and commitments, which in turn increases their attention and consumption of like-minded media, which further intensifies their commitment to a candidate, and their likelihood to become politically involved.  See Stroud, Natalie J. 2010. "Polarization and Partisan Selective Exposure." Journal of Communication 60, 3: 556–576.  Also Stroud, Natalie J. Niche News: The Politics of News Choice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

15. Donsbach, Wolfgang and Cornelia Mothes. “The Dissonant Self: Contributions from Dissonance Theory to a New Agenda in Studying Political Communication.” In Charles Salmon (Ed.), Communication Yearbook 12, 2012.  See also discussion by Scheufele, Dietram A. and Matthew C. Nisbet. “Online News and the End of Political Disagreement.” In Charles Salmon (Ed.), Communication Yearbook 12, 2012.

16. Bishop, Bill. The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008.  See also discussion in Abramowitz, Alan. The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and Democracy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009 pp. 101-110.

17. See Masket, Seth E. No Middle Ground: How Informal Party Organizations Control Nominations and Polarize Legislatures. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2009. See also Michael H. Murakami. 2008. "Divisive Primaries: Party Organizations, Ideological Groups, and the Battle over Party Purity." PS: Political Science & Politics 41: 918-923.

18. Mann, Thomas E. and Norman Ornstein. The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. See also discussion by Sinclair, Barbara. “Spoiling the Sausages? How a Polarized Congress Deliberates and Legislates.” In Nivola, Pietro and Brady, David. W. (eds.). Red and Blue Nation? Vol. 2. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, pp. 55-87, 2008.

19. Mann, Thomas E. and Norman Ornstein. It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. New York: Basic Books, 2012.

20. 60 Minutes. “Meet The Next House Speaker, Rep. John Boehner.”  CBS News, Dec. 13 2010.

21. Mann, Thomas E. and Norman Ornstein. “Let’s Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem.” Washington Post, April 27, 2012.

22. Ibid.

23. Halperin, Mark and John F. Harris. The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008. New York: Random House, 2006, pp xix; 295-307.

24. Ibid.

25. See end note 70 for discussion and references.

26. Fournier, Ron, Douglas B. Sosnik, and Matthew J. Dowd. Applebee's America: How Successful Political, Business, and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.

27. Halperin, Mark and John F. Harris. The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008. New York: Random House, 2006, pp. 3-42; 281-328.

28. Ibid, pp. 5.

29. Bai, Matt. The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics. New York: Penguin, 2007, pp. 23-48.

30. Bai, Matt. “Notion Building." New York Times Magazine, October 12, 2003. See also Mark Edsall. “Rich Liberals Vow to Fund Think Tanks.”  Washington Post, August 7, 2005.

31. Bai, Matt. The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics. New York: Penguin, 2007, pp. 25.

32. Ibid, pp. 26-27.  See also Mark Edsall. “Rich Liberals Vow to Fund Think Tanks.”  Washington Post, August 7, 2005.

33. Bai, Matt. “Notion Building." New York Times Magazine, October 12, 2003.

34. Chen, Edwin. “Soros Funded Democratic Idea Factory Becomes Obama Policy Front.” Bloomberg News, November 18, 2008. See also Baker, Peter. “Think Tank’s Leader Charts a New Course.” Washington Post, May 22, 2006.

35. Horowitz, Jason. “Think Tank Puts Spotlight on Veteran Democratic Operative Neera Tanden.”  Washington Post, November 3. 2012.

36. According to the Center for American Progress web site, the organization in 2008 and 2009 devoted 36 percent of its operating budget to “communications/outreach.”

37. See www.thinkprogress.org.

38. Brock, David. Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003.

39. Brock, David. The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy. New York: Crown Publishers, 2004.

40. For discussion of Brock’s career transition, see Zengerle, Jason. “If I Take Down Fox Is All Forgiven?New York Magazine, May 22 2010.

41. Ibid.

42. For discussion of Media Matters’ impact, see Fahri, Paul. “Out-foxed by Fox News? No Way.Washington Post, December 3, 2010. Also Steinberg, Jacques. “An All Out Attack on 'Conservative Misinformation.'” New York Times, 2008, November 1.

43. Berman, Ari. “Big $$ for Progressive Politics.” The Nation. September 28, 2006.

44. Edsall, Mark. “Rich Liberals Vow to Fund Think Tanks.”  Washington Post, August 7, 2005. See also Bai, Matt. The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics. New York: Penguin, 2007, pp. 96-99.

45. VandeHei, Jim and Chris Cillizza. “A New Alliance of Democrats Spreads Funding.”  Washington Post, July 17, 2006.

46. Hurst, Lynda. “The Ideas Factory in Obama's Washington; Thanks to Help from a Billionaire, a New Think-Tank Powerhouse Emerges.” Toronto Star, November 22, 2008.

47. Scherer, Michael. “Inside Obama’s Idea Factory in Washington.Time, Nov. 21, 2008.

48. Nocera, Joe. “Self-Made Philanthropists.New York Times, March 9, 2008.

49. Data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

50. Edsall, Thomas. “Soros-Backed Activist Group Disbands as Interest Fades.” Washington Post, August 3, 2005.

51. See discussion by Bai, Matt. “Wiring the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy.” The New York Times Magazine, July 24, 2004. See also discussion by Halperin, Mark and John F. Harris. The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008. New York: Random House, 2006, pp. xx.

52. See Berman, Ari. Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2010, pp. 143-144.

53. Justice, Glen. “Howard Dean’s Internet Push: Where Will It Lead?The New York Times Magazine, November 3, 2003. See also Berman, Ari. Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2010, pp. 11-78.

54. Kenski, Kate, Bruce W. Hardy, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson. 2010. The Obama Victory: How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election.  New York: Oxford University Press. 2010, pp. 397.

55. Halperin, Mark and John F. Harris. The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008. New York: Random House, 2006, pp ix.

56. Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. New York: Allen Lane, pp. 163.

57. Obama, Barack. “Tone, Truth, and the Democratic Party.” Daily Kos, September 30, 2005.

58. Smith, Ben. “Obama: Don’t Fund Independent Groups.Politico, May 13, 2008.

59. Data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

60. The preference for progressive over centrist groups is described by VandeHei, Jim and Chris Cillizza. “A New Alliance of Democrats Spreads Funding.Washington Post, July 17, 2006.

61. Greg Sargent. "Center For American Progress Launching Big War Room To Drive Obama Agenda." The Plum Line, March 10, 2009. No longer archived. Reposted at: http://www.thedemocraticstrategist.org/strategist/2009/03/at_last_a_progressive_echo_cha.php and http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=132x8255461.

62. See Draper, Robert. Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives. New York: Free Press, 2012. Also see Montgomery, Lori et al. “Origins of the Debt Show Down.Washington Post, August 6, 2011.

63. Draper, Robert. Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives. New York: Free Press, 2012.  See also Seib, G.F. and Naftali Bendavid. “How the Rout Was Won: Careful Plans, Timely Wave.” Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2010 and Rutenberg, Jim and Zeleny, J. “Democrats Outrun by 2-Year G.O.P. Comeback Plan.”  The New York Times, November 3, 2010.

64. Skocpol, Theda and Vanessa Williamson. The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 7; 129.

65. See discussion by Starr, Paul. Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle Over Health Care Reform. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012, pp. 231-232.

66. For example, see Farnum, T.W. “Obama Has Harder Time Getting Big Donations than in First Run.” Washington Post, March 19, 2012.

67. Pew Research Center for People and the Press. Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology. Washington, D.C., May 4, 2011.

68. Galston, William A. and Elaine C. Kamarck. The Still Vital Center: Moderates, Democrats, and the Renewal of American Politics. Washington, DC: Third Way Institute, February 2011.

69. Ibid.

70. Since 2000, increased campaign negativity is correlated with increased voter turn out, but the huge sums also spent on canvassing and other forms of direct contact may be the actual factor boosting turnout, especially among minorities and young people.  The 2012 election will be a good test of whether or not participation among minorities and young people can be sustained. Negativity is likely also increasing feelings of distrust, inefficacy, and cynicism especially among moderates, factors likely motivating the tendency to vote against incumbents, regardless of party.  These components of citizenship are also essential to a functioning civic culture. For discussion and analysis see Hetherington, Mark J. “Turned Off or Turned On: How Polarization Affects Political Engagement.”  In Nivola, Pietro and Brady, David. W. (eds.). Red and Blue Nation? Volume Two. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2008, pp. 1-33; Lau, Richard R., Lee Sigelman, and Ivy Brown Rovner. 2007. “The Effects of Negative Political Campaigns: A Meta-Analytic Reassessment.” The Journal of Politics, 69: 1176–1209; Patterson, Thomas E. The Vanishing Voter: Public Involvement in an Age of Uncertainty. New York: Alfred Knopf, 2002; and Mutz, Diana and Byron Reeves. 2005. “The New Video Malaise: The Effects of Televised incivility on Political Trust.” American Political Science Review, 99: 1-15.

71. Donsbach, Wolfgang and Cornelia Mothes. “The Dissonant Self: Contributions from Dissonance Theory to a New Agenda in Studying Political Communication.” In Charles Salmon (Ed.), Communication Yearbook 12, 2012. See also discussion by Scheufele, Dietram A. and Matthew C. Nisbet. “Online News and the End of Political Disagreement.” In Charles Salmon (Ed.), Communication Yearbook 12, 2012.

72. See Nielson, Rasmus E. Ground Wars: Personalized Communication in Political Campaigns. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012 and Green, Donald P. and Alan S. Gerber. Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turn Out. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2008.

73. See Masket, Seth E. No Middle Ground: How Informal Party Organizations Control Nominations and Polarize Legislatures. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2009. See also Michael H. Murakami. 2008. "Divisive Primaries: Party Organizations, Ideological Groups, and the Battle over Party Purity." PS: Political Science & Politics 41: 918-923.

74. See discussion at Room for Debate blog. “Will California’s ‘Top Two’ Primaries’ Work? New York Times.com, June 9, 2010.

75. Patterson, Thomas E. The Vanishing Voter: Public Involvement in an Age of Uncertainty. New York: Alfred Knopf, 2002, pp. 146-186.

76. On a demand side approach to campaign finance reform, see discussion by Hacker, Jacob S. and Paul Pierson. Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005, pp. 213.

77. Downie, Leonard and Schudson, Michael. "The Reconstruction of American journalism." Columbia Journalism Review, October 19, 2009.

78. Ibid.

79. For discussion, see Galston, William. 2004. “Civic Education and Political Participation.” PS: Political Science and Politics, 37: 263-66.

80. For one recent proposal, see Hobbs, Renee. Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action. Washington, DC: Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

81. A post-high school national service program has been endorsed by liberals and conservatives, see Brooks, David. “The Great Divorce.” The New York Times, January 30, 2012. Also see Buckley, W.F. and R. Lawson. Gratitude: Reflections On What We Owe to Our Country. New York: Random House, 1990.

82. Parry, Mark. “A Political Defector.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 29, 2012.

83. Corley, Elizabeth A., Dietram A. Scheufele, and Qian Hu. 2009. “Of Risks and Regulations: How Leading US Nanoscientists Form Policy Stances about Nanotechnology.” Journal of Nanoparticle Research, 11: 1573-1585.

84. Wallace, Benjamin. “Those Fabulous Confabs.” New York Magazine, Febuary 26, 2012.

85. Mann, Thomas E. and Norman Ornstein. It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. New York: Basic Books, 2012.