When the center cannot hold, things fall apart. But the problem of polarization can’t be confined to Congress anymore — a new survey from the Pew Research Center shows that Americans are increasingly trenchant in their ideologies as well.
The study of over 10,000 Americans found that more Americans were identifying as consistently liberal or consistently conservative than ever before. The days of conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans seem to be gone: 92 percent of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94 percent of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican.
Instead of just causing interminable congressional deadlock, the political divide has also led to a deepening antipathy among ordinary Americans for the other side, with 27 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Republicans believing the other side’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”
The divide partially stems from increasing liberalism on social issues like gay marriage, while Republicans relied on ballot measures opposed to it to get out the vote. And increased gerrymandering, which has led to the death of swing districts, rewards extreme candidates with less interest in governance than ideological purity.
But more important is the bifurcation of the news media into conservative and liberal factions, especially by TV with its increasing focus on news spinning rather than on news reporting. When constituents insist on constructing ideological echo chambers within their homes, it’s no surprise that Congress has become one, too.