Polarized about polarization

by Andrew Gelman on September 6, 2011

in Campaigns and elections,Political Science and Journalism,Public opinion

Economic divisions and political polarization in red and blue America:

Americans are worried about polarization, but we can’t always agree on what exactly we’re polarized about. You might say that we’re polarized about polarization.

On the left are concerns about economic polarization, the widening divide between the haves and the have-nots and the increasingly unequal distribution at the high end, with the richest one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans taking 7 percent of the income, which is associated with the declining influence of labor unions and a political tilt toward the rich. From the right come concerns about social polarization, Red America versus Blue America, a clash of values so strong that liberals can no longer talk to conservatives, a country in which ordinary people struggle with a liberal media and a decadent cultural elite (“Hollywood versus America,” in the words of movie critic Michael Medved).

How can we make sense of these different claims? The rich and poor have always been with us, and political and cultural issues have always been fiercely disputed (otherwise they wouldn’t be “issues” in the first place). And geographic divides in American politics are hardly new; the South is different and always has been, and urban and rural areas have always represented different interests.

But there have been some big changes in recent decades. . . .

From a short article of mine in the latest issue of Pathways.

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