However, the current form of polarization endangers democracy because it includes disagreement about the democratic rules of the game, rather than just divides over policies.
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What is most worrisome is that such divisions are not only manifest in US politics but are also present in many other established democracies. Disagreements over the legitimacy of democratic norms and institutions are of global significance and thus must be seen as a true challenge for democracy. What exactly is party polarization? Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal provide an authoritative answer to this question.
They define party polarization as a situation in which political parties are far apart on policy issues, and party members are tightly clustered around the party mean.
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Poole and Howard L. Rosenthal, Ideology and Congress Routledge, , Longitudinal analyses on roll call votes in the US Congress show striking developments toward greater levels of party polarization since the s. Today, the average policy preferences of the Democratic and Republican parties are more divided than at any other time in modern history. Poole, and Howard L. In an increasing proportion of congressional votes, more than 90 percent of one party votes against 90 percent of the other party. Similarly, in the s, s, and s, the typical member of Congress voted with his or her party on party-dividing questions just over 60 percent of the time; in the s, over 70 percent of the time; and in the s, over 80 percent of the time.
Since , members have voted with their parties more than 87 percent of the time. The key question about this trend is whether we need to be anxious about it.
Does this development pose a threat to democratic governance? In principle, no. While the increasing unity of and distinctiveness between congressional parties is striking, when put in a larger context this hardly appears to be a troublesome development for two main reasons. First, from a cross-national perspective, party polarization in the United States indicates a trend toward normalcy rather than toward a state of crisis.
It moves the US party system closer to the group of established and stable European democracies. In these democracies, parties are characterized by high levels of unity in legislative voting, as well as ideological distinctiveness, when mapped on the traditional left-right spectrum. Most European democracies post-World War II consistently match, or even exceed, the levels of party unity in floor voting currently seen in the US Congress.
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However, in past decades, this did not threaten democracy. It rather facilitated accountable, responsive, and stable democratic government in European democracies.
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A second reason for optimism comes from a historical perspective on the issue. Current trends toward greater party polarization in congressional politics align with past concerns about the parochial and fragmented nature of the US Congress. It argued that voters could exercise greater control over government if the two major political parties were polarized in the sense that they adopt clear and ideologically distinct policy platforms, and if they implement their platforms in legislative decision-making in disciplined ways.
For E. Schattschneider, writing in , democracy was almost unthinkable due to the pluralist and diverse nature of modern societies.
He considered disciplined parties the only means to effectively connect citizens and the state under these conditions, allowing for accountable democratic government. Reasons for an optimistic stance on party polarization also stem from the fact that responsible party government not only serves as a means to effectively connect citizens and the state, but also facilitates the consistency and efficiency of policymaking. Therefore, it can counteract the excessive and inefficient spending, known as pork, that the US Congress has been found guilty of in the past. Weingast, Kenneth A. To sum up, if we put current debates on polarization in the context of past critical analyses of congressional politics, one is led to wonder why remedies promoted in the past are now suddenly seen as a disease.
Efforts to identify why current trends are so worrisome have led some observers to stress the extent of party polarization as the true reason for concern. However, the assumption that American parties might have grown ideologically too far apart from each other can hardly be securely deduced from the available empirical evidence.
Poole, and Howard Rosenthal. It is a quantitative procedure that scores the ideological positions of legislators on the basis of roll call votes information regarding who votes with whom.
A legislator that votes with two colleagues more frequently than these colleagues vote together is positioned as a moderate, in between his or her more extreme two colleagues. For a more detailed explanation, see Keith T. These measures are also not able to exactly capture ideological distances between legislators and between parties. Fiorina and Samuel J. The true reason that party polarization in the United States is worrisome is not the extent of ideological polarization, but rather the particular issues parties are polarized about.
Most accounts on polarization, similar to Poole and Rosenthal cited above, assume that polarization concerns divides over policy issues, either economic, cultural, or both. In contrast, recent polarization in the US Congress includes party differences about the rules of the game, or essentially about conceptions of democracy. The recent behavior of some politicians can serve as a clear example of these worrisome divisions over the rules of the game. The following examples specifically depict visible transgressions of the norms of liberal democracy, such as open disrespect of key institutions.
More than two weeks after the December 12, , special election, he not only still failed to concede but also doubled-down on the voter fraud claims which were widely perceived as questionable and unfounded by bringing a lawsuit. The subtext of such attacks reveals a fundamental division over conceptions of democracy. To be sure, criticism of liberal democracy is not recent.
What is new and significant is that individual transgressions of the rules of the game receive widespread support from large numbers of bystanders who play active roles in the political system, and who either openly cheer or silently support this behavior. Just as with everything else it is trends that control what the next in-thing will be, and in storytelling was top. This year the hot topic is moving pictures.
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People are also talking a lot about emotions. What a reaction they got. The video awakened emotions and caused a polarisation in the debate. This year there are more channels, social media, platforms and networks than ever. On the plus side there is something for everyone; the downside is that it may be hard to sift through all the information.
The traditional election cabins must not be underrated, Kajsa Falasca says. As a voter you have to keep a cool head and be critical. On Thursday, 13 June, the report on the European Parliament elections, Euroflections, was presented at a seminar in Stockholm. More than For many destinations, events like music festivals and sports events are opportunities to attract tourists and to place the destination On 9 September this autumn the polling stations will open their doors and Swedes will vote in the Riksdag and municipal elections A book sprung from frustration.
How can local news journalists who cover rural areas be given support in an age when more and more provincial editorial offices are How can tourism and heritage support peace-building efforts? Kajsa Falasca. Search Search Search. They pump out their messages and then let their followers do the work The Green Party chose to use its Facebook page as a kind of digital election cabin, where they for example announced a certain time when they would be available to answer questions.
Appealing to emotions Individual politicians can on the other hand be very active. Unique analysis reveals that the European Parliament elections are perceived as national elections 13 June - On Thursday, 13 June, the report on the European Parliament elections, Euroflections, was presented at a seminar in Stockholm. The impact of events can now be evaluated in a new way 24 May - For many destinations, events like music festivals and sports events are opportunities to attract tourists and to place the destination The general election — what are the most important things to know?
New light on rural areas' media shadows 13 December - How can local news journalists who cover rural areas be given support in an age when more and more provincial editorial offices are Tourism and cultural heritage are used to build peace 08 December - How can tourism and heritage support peace-building efforts?