Red and Blue Nation? Characteristics and Causes of America's Polarized Politics with David Brady, Morris Fiorina and Pietro Nivola.
During the past decade, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have been able to capture a majority of the vote in national elections. In fact, the country hasn't been so evenly divided since the 1870s. Some say this is evidence of a culture war and a political divide that has split the country into two Americas. Others disagree, arguing that in fact most Americans are in the moderate middle and are divided on relatively few issues. Who's right?
David Brady is deputy director and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is also the Bowen H. and Janice Arthur McCoy Professor of Political Science and Leadership Values in the Stanford Graduate School of Business and professor of political science in the School of Humanities and Sciences at the university.
Brady is an expert on the U.S. Congress and congressional decision making. His current research focuses on the political history of the U.S. Congress, the history of U.S. election results, and public policy processes in general.
Morris P. Fiorina is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Wendt Family Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. Formerly he was the Frank Thompson Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he taught from 1982-1998. From 1972-1982 he taught at the California Institute of Technology.
Lecturer and Visiting Professor, Harvard University; Associate Professor, University of Vermont; Research Associate, Guest Scholar, and Visiting Fellow, Brookings.
Okay my name is David Brady and I am Deputy Director of the Hoover Institution and as you can seeco-editor and co-author of this book "Red And Blue Nation?: Characteristics And Causes of America'sPolarized Politics." So this project, joint project between Hoover Institution and Brookings Institution,it's okay for me to say Hoover first here because when we did it at Brookings they said Brookings firstthere so. No I am just kidding. Pietro came to me and talked about you know, why not we cooperate ona study of polarization, so that we get both perspectives on it and see if we can raise some funding to do it.So essentially Pietro raised the money and the Hoover Institution related in the project, but mainly itwas his work. Probably wonder what I am doing here I will show him that later. Now the idea of thisbook as you have heard about this issue of polarization and the Red and the Blue Nation has beenprominent for quite some time in American politics and much is attributed to it. Not much good, badfor the country, causes bad public policy, so the issue was was from a scholarly perspective, there issomething more to this polarize was there anything really there in polarization or was it a lot of mediahype and short terms stories that didn't make much sense. So the way we approached it was, we wantto know first of all what is polarization, what would it mean and there is really three levels that we could talk about.First of all with the polarization is polarization at the government level where we can pretty wellmeasure how Congress votes and so the question there is you know, how often do the Democratsoppose the Republicans on everything, is there any overlap where some Democrats go with someRepublicans and at that level it appeared clear that there was, in the United States, polarization relativeto at least the immediate post World War II period. That is if you start with the post World War IIperiod and you think about the Johnson presidency, not the Johnson presidency, sorry but if you thinkabout the Eisenhower presidency with Rayburn and Johnson cooperating in that kind of sprit that didn'tseem to be present in the present circumstances. It's nice by the way if you teach them for theundergraduates to be able to look at the audience and mention, Dwight Eisenhower and Sam Rayburnand Lyndon Johnson and people know what the hell you are talking about. Undergraduates they haveno idea who any of those people are.And then the second part was the elites and by the elites we mean the party activists. And fortunatelywe have had some survey research done on party elites literarily back into the probably 1948-52 era.And it turns out that at least on those two levels, the party elites and the governing elite, the membersof Congress et cetera they are polarized relative to this post World War II period. So at least at thosetwo levels there was polarization and the real question then comes to the third level is where is thepublic in this. Where is the American public, are they polarized because if they are polarized thenAmerican politics becomes really pretty straightforward to study because if the publics is polarized onwhatever set of issues they are, one group here and one group there then it's perfectly clear why theelites would be polarized and why congress would be polarized because they are reflecting publicopinion. And whatever solution, if you thought polarization was bad how it would work itself out orwhat remarks you would make about how to reform it would be pretty difficult, would be differentfrom the second scenario which I am now about to present.And in a sense the whole project would not have been possible without my colleague Morris Fiorina'swork called Culture War in which Mo argues and you will hear from him in a just a minute so I won'ttalk about it. But if the public is not polarized, imagine a world in which the public is pretty much inthe center but the elites and the government, Congress at least are polarized then that's an entirelydifferent ball game because then you have to ask the question why is it that the public isn't polarizedbut the government is and the elites are. And then, you know, pick your own favorite explanation. Itcould be primaries, low turnout primaries that drive the Democrats to the left and Republicans to theright. It could be the effect of money, it could be so the there could be all sorts of effects and in thatcase, the solution, if you thought polarization was bad, would be to reform the institutions with openprimaries to get more centrist candidates. But at any rate and the solutions would also be different.So the fundamental question of all of this issue of Red and Blue Nation is how do those threecomponents fit together? How is it that the elite, Congressional, Congressmen and Congresswomenhow they vote and the American public. So the key question is some sense is where is the public, arethey as polarized as the elites. And to that question we turn to my colleague Morris Fiorina. When hefinishes and I am about to put his when he finishes Pietro Nivola from Brookings will come forward.Pietro heads the Government Division at the Brookings Institution. And he is going to talk about whatwe found in the first volume and then we will open it up for questions. So just one second. Okay.This is it, okay and then you want, there you go.Thank you David, thank you all for coming today. The after the 2000 election of extending throughthe 2004 election you will all remember the narrative that was used to explain these elections thatAmerica was now engaged in a culture war. A deep divide, the reason for the polarization at thegovernmental levels that David had talked about was the fact that the population had divided into twolarge camps. One, moral traditionalists, the other basically secular humanists in modern terminology.And you remember the map, they are in numerous versions of this map. And the interpretation was thatthe god fearing states of the south and the Midwest were now all readied against the godlesslibertine states of the north east and the west coast and the old socialist states of the upper Midwest.There are a few people like New Mexicans and the who screwed up in the 2000 elections but by2004 they have gotten with the program and the map was really neat by 2004. Now it was obvious, assomebody who is a political scientist who spent most of his life studying public opinion data in theAmerican elections but there wasn't much to this narrative that empirically the data just didn't supportthis. And what we did in the first book Culture War was to simply amass data that showed that theAmerican public was still largely centrist, largely pragmatic, not ideological, even on what you call hotbutton issues like abortion and so forth, that was still the case and not much had changed and well wejust to clarify terms here. What do you mean by polarization is when the middle disappears andeverybody goes to the extremes. So if you look at, I used to call these zones, but one of my studentsthis year told me they always called these the bubble gum slides in their class. So whatever you like.On the one on the left there is 33 blues, 34 grays and 33 Rs - reds, call them Democrats, independentsor Republicans, or liberals, moderates, conservatives whatever you want. It's an even distribution. Nowby two we have polarization. Everything is either blue or red, it's liberal or conservative, or Democraticor Republican so it's ideological points of polarization. Now we knew the data didn't support that. Infact much of the data goes the opposite direction. American attitudes and views of it converging inrecent years are not diverging. Just and here is an example from Gallup data that we didn't find these,originally we find the 1970s data after we wrote the book. Gallup simply asked people, do you callyourself a liberal, a moderate or a conservative, do you consider yourself and liberals are on thebottom. These are conservatives right here and these are moderates and this is the average in the 1970ssurveys over here. This is I am having trouble here with technology. This is the 1990s surveys andthe 2000 surveys. And what you are seeing is liberals are down a little. Conservatives are just about thesame, moderates are up. There are actually more moderates, or more Americans consideringthemselves moderates nowadays than they did back in the Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford et cetera days of 1970s.So contrary to polarization we have actually less polarization on this ideological question. What we dohave is what I call sorting. And this is the paper we did for the first volume here. By sorting what wemean is this, over here we have the same number in the two urns of liberals, moderates, conservativesor Democrats, independents, and Republicans but they are sorted differently. And the one on the lefthere is probably the hard to see. About two-thirds of the blues are Democrats. That is liberalDemocrats, about two thirds of the Rs are Republicans, that is conservative Republicans but someDemocrats are conservatives, some Republicans are liberals. Over hear we have a much higherproportion of blue, of liberal Democrats and much higher proportion of conservative Republicansalthough the larger margins are the same. Blues, reds and grays are the same and that's what'shappened. The parties have gotten better sorted out. That the Democrats have gotten rid of a lot of theirConservatives mostly in the south who have had this large scale realignment, now probably it hasnow probably it has gotten rid of a large part of their liberal wing. The Republican Party in the northeast is just about wiped out, after this last election. So while we have roughly the same numbers, ofpartisans, the same numbers of ideologues, the distorting into the parties have become cleaner nowthere is - and what we did in this paper was to investigate that in the TL and a lot of this is based on thethesis work of one of our students Matt Levendusky who is going to publish a book next year onlooking at this in great detail. What we found is we moved the categories of issues, the parties todayremained best sorted on new deal issues that is contrary to Thomas Frank, What's the Matter withKansas? The argument about cultural issues. You still can tell a Democrat and a Republican apartbetter by knowing their views on taxes, social security, healthcare etcetera that aren't cultural issues.Now we have that's increasing, over time that is not decreasing, it's actually increasing. The party arebetter sorted on these social welfare state issues.Racial issues the parties have now become better sorted as the southern conservatives have gone toRepublican Party. Cultural issues, they are also better sorted on things like abortion so forth, wellthey are surprisingly, I will show you some things little later. Defensive foreign policy issues, therewas absolutely no partisan sorting until 2004. And so, that is you couldn't tell a Democratic and aRepublican apart on any kind of foreign policy or defense issues until 2004 on average. Now thequestion remains is that going to be a permanent development or is that something is going to go awayonce the Bush administration passes the scene, once Iraq war is over.We found numerous individual issue patterns, some place it kind of been better sorted on some issues,worse sorted on others. One party is sorting on one issue, need - the other party not on others. But thepoint I really want to emphasize is how limited the storting still is. That is it's by no means a perfectsorting. This is a graph that was just put out by the Pew Foundation a couple of weeks ago.They have been asking over the last 20 years, a set of questions. 40 questions in all on American'spolitical and social attitudes and this is the average difference on those 40 questions between peoplewho call themselves Democrats and people who call themselves Republicans over the 40 years. As youcan see, it's going up from 10 percent to 14 percent in a 20 year period. So that's how much partisansorting there has been overtime on all of these issues.Now granted if that sorting was 55 Democratic, 40 Republicans it's always on the opposite side of 50percent, that is politically significant but a lot of this when you look at the individual data, you know,Republicans are in favor of the death penalty 75 percent and Democrats only 60 percent whileRepublicans are opposed to gay marriage or supported gay marriage in only 15 percent and Democratsin 30 percent. So lot of these issues, they are on the same sides of majority point even though theydiffer somewhat. It is still the case as David mentioned that ordinary Democrats and Republicans arefar less sorted than politically elites. These are New York Times delegate surveys that have been doingsince 1980. Where they compare the views of delegates to the Republican and Democratic Nationalnominated conventions with the views of people out in the population, Democrats and Republicanswho are in this survey at the same time. And notice how and this is the 2004 surveys. Notice how thedelegates to the conventions on the general question of act of government, they are about as far apartyou can get. This is like 85 percent of Republicans saying no and there are only 15 percent ofDemocrats saying no. Whereas it identifies only 13 percent apart, some issues yes, some issues no.They are pragmatic, you know, they don't have a blighted point of view. And even ifyou look at the issues at the fine party conflict today, the Bush tax cuts, abortion, Patriot Act type ofthings, diplomacy, working through the UN, gay marriage, gay relationships. You still see theordinary identifies are half or less as separated as the delegates. So the closer you get down tothe grass roots the less polarization you find. The polarization is strong, it's noticeable at the upperlevels, it washes out as you go down.This is perhaps I think one of the most striking ones. You know, when you think of the DemocraticNational Party you think of NARAL and Kate Michaelman etcetera. And if you think of Republicansyou think of James Dobson who focused on the family. This is the views on the abortion question in2004 national elections that the political scientist run. The countries divided roughly into one thirdDemocrats, one third Republics and one third independents. Then it goes up, when Republicans won in2004 and up a level on the Republican side. At this last election, went up a little more in theDemocratic side. It's basically, one third, one third, one third. Well in each party it's about half and halfabout half the people say I am a strong Democrat or strong Republican and the other half say wellsort of a not so strong Democrat or Republican. So this is the one sixth of the population that puts itselfin the strong Democratic category.And one sixth of population puts itself in the strong Republican category. And where do they wheredo their abortion views fall? Well the strong Democrats 10 percent say it should never be permitted andthe other quarter says only in cases of rape, incest or when the women's life is in danger. So that's 33percent of Democrats, one third of strong Democrats in the country out of step with their NationalParty saying they are essentially pro-life. In Republicans it's even more striking, among strongRepublicans, the party of James Dobson et cetera you have nearly a quarter of Republicans sayingalways should be legal. You have about 18 percent all of that just saying any time there is a clear need.So basically you have about 40 percent of the Republican Party, the strong Republicans the base sayingyeah, pro choice, by and large. There is nothing more liberal than the party advocates. So partisansorting has occurred but it's not nearly as strong at the grassroots levels as it is at the elite level, evenon what you call defining issues at the National Party level, it's not that impressive.Now in the last election, there have been columns written called "Revenge of the moderates" and "Themiddle strikes back" and so forth. About 38 percent people in the exit polls where Democrats, about aquarter independents, third Republicans, are nearly half were moderates, self identified moderates. Inthe next election where the turn out is going to increase from about 40 percent in the last election toabout 60 percent in the Presidential Election, the increase is going to come, we know this from 40years of voting data, the increase is going to come right here for the most part among the independents,moderates will certainly be barring some earth changing event, well and over the majority of electoratein the next election. So the electorate itself is still basically centrist, basically pragmatic and wouldchoose those kinds of alternatives if the parties were to offer them.Now, that's been the problem. Now basically we we tend to get wide variety of liberal Democratsand Southern social Conservatives at the heads of the ticket. Now had the people who drew those mapshave to look at races other than the Presidential race, they would have drawn different conclusions.This is the Red-Blue map drawn according to gubernatorial voting rather than Presidential voting. Andyou see there, this is after 2006 where there are 26 States now. They have a governor at the party officeat from the way the they voted for President last time. Even after 2004, there were 22 States like that.So you have you have Blue Governors in Red States like lot of yeah, Montana, Colorado,Wyoming, out here. You have Red Governors in Blue States like Massachusetts and California. Thatdepending on the choices they get on the ballots, people are voting different, very different ways. It'snot just all Red, Blue or liberal Democrat or liberal Republican. It's the choices they are offered. Yougo on to the legislative level, this is party controlled. There is the Democratic or Republican party'scontrol of the entire State, the Governorship or both Houses of the Legislature. Half the States have some form of divided control.People have given one or one level to one party, well two levels to one party and one level to anotherparty. Here is not that many, only a minority where the Democrats have full control and Republicanshave full control. So the conclusion is despite the partisan sorting is going on, this is basically still apurple country for the most part. This it's just a different shades of purple running from reddishpurple to bluish purple. But there aren't really that many states in which the right Republican or theright Democrat could win from the other party if they simply can manage to get nominated.I am Pietro Nivola of the Brookings Institution. And I am going to try to give you a summary of sort ofthe basic findings of the project that go a little bit beyond what Professor Fiorina just discussed. This isthe first volume well, there are going to be two volumes to this project. This is volume one whichlooks at the causes and characteristics, as the subtitle says. Volume two will will be considering theconsequences or the implications of of partisan polarization and what if anything ought to be doneabout it. So that one will be called the subtitle, the consequences and correction of America's polarizedpolitics. These are the and for those of you who brought the book, I don't need to do this, but thethe contents are these essays each of whom there is an essay, that I wrote with a colleague BillGalston followed by Professor Fiorina's essay with discussion by various other experts in this field andthe third chapter is Professor Brady's on the history comparing polarization today with what it was like in the past.Fourth chapter deals with the question of religion in the role of religion in polarizing, supposedlypolarizing the US and that was written by my colleague E.J. Dionne at Brookings. The fifth one is byDiana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania who wrote a very interesting piece on what the mediahas been up to. Sixth is the question of Gerrymandering. This was written by my colleague ThomasMann and it's very it's quite an interesting paper because it finds that actually Gerrymandering doesnot turn out to be quite as big a deal in the course of this polarization problem as is widely suspected.Now I just want to quickly mention that without these three foundations we couldn't have done thisproject. So we are very grateful to them.Now this was sort of the first question we tried to address. How divided are we? And I guess, theanswer we sort of came, the conclusion we came to was that the notion that there is a great culture wargoing on in the US as Mo Fiorina just said, is really pretty bogus and not at all what is actually goingon. However, our politics had become considerably more partisan for the reasons that he discussed, thesorting of people into the two into Democrats and Republicans who vote more consistently,especially in Presidential elections for one party or the other. And they are more partisan, I think, thanthey were a generation ago. The partisan, the partisan differences have gotten more sharp than theywere on certain issues and I would say primarily on foreign policy questions. I we, in the secondvolume of the book we get into a much more on this, so you will have to wait until that comes outwhich is in December but we will be back here talking about that, but to give you just some idea ofwhat of how deep the cleavages have been on foreign policy especially in the after you know, withthe Iraq war and so on or after September 11, we found one of the papers in the second volume finds,for example, that 63 percent of Republicans strongly agree with the notion that under some conditionswar is necessary to obtain justice, whereas only half that number of Democrats feel that way.Here is another example that's in the second, in the second book. When asked, would you approve theuse of US military troops even to just destroy a terrorist camp such as we did, you know, we have beendoing in Afghanistan, barely a half - more than half of Democrats said yes, 57 percent. 95 percent ofRepublicans strongly say yes. Now that's a considerable gap between the partisans on issues of thatsort. Now here is the question that Professor Brady touched on at the beginning. How much of thisphenomenon is at the - strictly at the elite level, that is the active part, the really active partisans, thedelegates to the national conventions, the politicians, the media or whatever. The opinion leaders insociety and how much of it is actually coming up, welling up from the public, from the electorate atlarge. And I think we all came to a consensus that it's mainly a top down process driven by the politicalclass. But several of those, several of us felt that at least on certain types of issues, it is also a bottom upprocess, percolating from the electorate probably because of a lot of the sorting process that Fiorinawas describing. So that some of the polarization really is here by popular demand, if I can put it that way.Now is today's polarization unique by historical standards. Professor Brady argues in his paper that ifyou go back far enough in time, the polarization that you see today especially in the Congress looksmore like what it was through most of American history than what it was like in the 1950s where it wasreally more of an exception to the norm, in the sense that there was much more bipartisanshipespecially on questions of foreign policy during that period.In Dionne's paper about religion you know, he tries to figure out, okay, how much of the partisandivide has to do with religious issues and also with the tendency of religious voters to swing toward theRepublicans and less religious voters to go to down price and indeed he finds that observant religiousvoters, people, meaning people who go to church at least once a week have indeed been congregatingin the Republican Party and have driven the party to the right at least on certain value questionsparticularly, issues such as abortion, same sex marriage and certain types of social issues or wedgeissues. Secularists are populating the Democratic party's base and in fact they drive their party to theleft on such issues, strongly pro-choice for example and so on. But overall religion is not as importantyet as traditional factors such as class, income raise which are really still the dominant determinants of voter preferences.So as Mo Fiorina said earlier, the new deal issues are still very much alive and well in the electorate.Does the do the mass media contribute to polarized politics. Professor Mutz's answer to this is thatit's pretty likely that they are contributing in at least these four ways by segmenting audiences intoideological echo chambers, which by which he means, you know, the development for example,internet blogs that had particular partisan niches and the development of cable television, talk radio,these types of changes have had the effect of segmenting the voters into groups that just sort of listen toone another rather than to a sort of more mainstream points of view. There has been a tendencyaccording to her to siphon off the independent moderate voters that are the least politically engaged inany case. These voters tend to migrate to sort of entertainment outlets and therefore are sort of takenout of the game and they and they tend to participate less in elections and in the political process thatinternally has a polarizing effect.She thinks that the horse race effect, the tendency of the media to cover the question of who is aheadand who is behind and who is the winner and who is the loser tends to de-legitimate the loser and insome kind of complicated way that she she suspects that that may have a polarizing influence as well.She also thinks that television has had an adverse impact because of the instability that's that's sort ofportrayed through in your face types of programs, pugnacious, truculent exchanges between people on television has had an effect.On the question of gerrymandering, yes. The process of drawing Congressional districts in ways thatsort of secure or lock down, certain number of Congressional districts as to make them completelynoncompetitive tends to entrench arch partisans in the House of Representatives but we estimated thatreally only somewhere between 10 to 30 maximum 30 percent of the non-competitive Congressionaldistricts can be really explained through gerrymandering, the rest of it really has to do with themigration of voters into districts, migrations of there own choice. Having nothing to do with howdistrict lines have been drawn. So on the margin there is now question that gerrymandering is part ofthe problem, if we considered it a problem, but its is not the - it's not the main cause of noncompetitiveCongressional districts and therefore of polarizing the house.Now what are some deeper causes of partisan polarization? There are lots of them but, we talk up atsome length about three. One of course is the party realignment in the south, when the Democrats losttheir conservative southern base they became a much more liberal party and as the Republicans lockeddown the south and in the sunbelt and that became their base they became a more orthodox party aswell, especially as they lost some of their moderate base in the parts of northeast for example, in NewEngland and so on and that went on, that continued, has continued in recent elections. There wasbasically a wipe out of Republican moderates in New England in the 2006 mid term elections. The endof the Cold War played a part because, of course, the parties tended to pull together a lot more in theface of this big external threat, the Soviet Union and when that external threat sort of began to wane,the party's could afford to pull apart. Also partisan divergence has developed over certain types ofwedge issues. If you look at for example the difference between Republican and Democratic partyplatforms on the question of abortion, really they were pretty indistinguishable roughly until the late1970s after which you could really begin to see clear differences between the party platforms on aquestion like that and as I said earlier on foreign policy the Democrats and Republicans began to diverge a great deal.Now just to give you a quick preview of where we are headed in the second volume, so what howmuch difference does all this make for policy and politics? In our preliminary answer we haven't ourpapers are still in manuscript form so we are not. We haven't engraved them in stone quite yet. But oursense is that that there that we can conclude the following things, first of all, polarized politicalparties in the Congress, for example, have brought less legislative grid-lock than is commonlyassumed. As a matter of fact there has been a great deal of important legislation that's been that'sbeen enacted despite all the polarization. And it's been enacted either because one party was verydisciplined and managed to ram through what it wanted or because there has actually been a fairamount of bipartisan cooperation on other key pieces of legislation and I can give you examples of that later.But but the polarized situation, especially in the Congress, has complicated essentially fouressentially tasks or three essential tasks. One is that there really is no headway being made in terms oftackling the nation's long range fiscal predicament which is what's going to happen as the babyboomers retire and the welfare state begins to get really crushed by the weight of Medicare spendingand various entitlement programs. The problem of sustaining this kind of spending and how to keep thebooks balanced in the face of that.Secondly as we have seen especially in the past six months it's going to become increasingly difficultto sustain a dependable and forceful and reliable foreign policy when the two parties are so much atodds. It used to be, the old saying was you know, politics had to stop at the water's edge when it cameto foreign affairs. That's clearly no longer the case. And finally we suspect that there is a potential riskhere to the independents and even the health of at least some of the basic institutions of governmentparticularly the judiciary where the process of confirming federal judges has become so contentiousand acrimonious because of partisan counter station over that, that there are there really are somedangers there and finally I think it is arguably the case that if you have too much sort of partisanpolemics in Washington the voters, they don't necessarily get to discuss this, as a matter of factthey often, in some ways the intensity of the partisan contest sends more voters to the polls. They turnout more but in terms of their sense of trust in government, governmental institutions that maybeeroding because of in part because of the intensity of the partisan warfare. So with that, I will shut up.