The Myth of Political Polarization

Going along with my post below, I have often wondered why, with so many governors thriving in states where their party is supposedly in the ...
by | December 1, 2005

Going along with my post below, I have often wondered why, with so many governors thriving in states where their party is supposedly in the minority, anyone ever thought states could fairly be categorized as "red" or "blue." I think I found the answer at the 8th annual American Democracy Conference, which I attended this morning.

One panel discussion at the conference featured representatives of the four congressional campaign committees: the Democratic and Republican Senate and House committees. They spent more than an hour interrupting each other, making snide and sarcastic remarks, ignoring the questions they were asked and reveling in every scandal or misfortune that had befallen their opposition. On multiple occasions, the audience of journalists and political junkies jeered their responses because they were repeating the same spin over and over again.

Besides being entertaining, this display showed me why many journalists accept that the current political environment is rigidly polarized. If I had to listen to national political operatives scream at each other all day, I probably would think so too. Once you accept the polarization frame, it becomes easy to apply it to states, congressional districts or anything else.

But, if people would simply look beyond the federal arena, they would see a very different picture. Although state campaigns can unquestionably get nasty, there is a spirit of pragmatism in state government that is not seen at the federal level.

Governors such as Mark Warner and Mike Huckabee have worked successfully with legislatures controlled by the opposite party. Republicans such as Bill Owens of Colorado have supported tax increases, while Democrats like Phil Bredesen of Tennessee have enacted cuts in social programs, even though these actions contradicted the typical stances of their parties.

Just this morning Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, visited Governing and defended scandal-plagued Gov. Bob Taft of Ohio, a Republican. Good luck trying to find a congressional Democrat willing to give Tom DeLay the benefit of the doubt or a Republican who will defend Bill Clinton.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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