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America’s polarized politics

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Every day brings more evidence of the United States’ profound political polarization. Partisan intransigence, vitriol, and divisiveness now contaminate most government institutions. What is more, these sentiments have steadily infiltrated every nook and cranny of American life.

In the mid-twentieth century, Americans tended to be divided over important but mundane political issues, such as how big government should be or what kinds of social services it should be provided. But there has been a significant shift and growing animosity in recent decades as voters have become less concerned with what government does and much more interested in politicians they believe represent who they are, according to Marc Hetherington, professor of political science at the University of North Carolina.

The current partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans has its roots in the cultural upheaval of the 1960’s, Hetherington said. Nowadays, political preferences are a reflection of voter’s values, their morals and whether they consider the world to be safe or a dangerous place, as Hetherington lays out in his book “Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America’s Great Divide,” which he co-authored with Jonathan Weiler.

As our politics have become more personal, and the two sides have become increasingly estranged from each other, the consequences have not been pretty.

Collaborating with scholars from around the world, we have examined the striking rise of severe polarization in numerous other democracies, including Bangladesh, Colombia, Poland, and Turkey.

Although polarization in the United States shares some basic features with political divisions elsewhere, we found that it stood out in many crucial respects.

Ultimately, where political candidates of all stripes stand on policy issues in 2020, may not win them votes. “Americans are relatively moderate on a lot of issue positions. There’s not a whole lot of actual policy-based disagreement,” said Mason.

Neither she or Hetherington think that our political parties are likely to make peace anytime soon, and both are concerned about the health of American democracy.

Or it could just come down to one side getting out way ahead of the other, he said. That possibility seems remote when you look at a recent analysis by the data journalism website FiveThirtyEight, which concludes that “we are living in the longest era of highly competitive elections since the Civil War.”

Ultimately, where political candidates of all stripes stand on policy issues in 2020, may not win them votes. “Americans are relatively moderate on a lot of issue positions. There’s not a whole lot of actual policy-based disagreement,” said Mason.

Neither she or Hetherington think that our political parties are likely to make peace anytime soon, and both are concerned about the health of American democracy.

Or it could just come down to one side getting out way ahead of the other, he said. That possibility seems remote when you look at a recent analysis by the data journalism website FiveThirtyEight, which concludes that “we are living in the longest era of highly competitive elections since the Civil War.”

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