Why We’re Polarized (book review)

Why We're PolarizedWhy We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Critical for understanding our politics. My wording of central thesis:

The US went from our parties not being sorted by key issues before the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1965 to being sorted on most key issues.

Evidence: Civil Rights Act was passed by a coalition of anti-racism northern Republicans and Democrats, while it was opposed by the majority of Democrats (the Dixiecrats) and conservative Republicans. Thus, the parties were not sorted by racial attitudes but had equality and racist caucuses in each party.

After 1965, The Dixiecrats moved to the GOP and the moderate northern Republicans moved to the Democrats. Voila, the parties had sorted by this issue (and also by religion and other issues). This creates identity with the party and polarization. Other factors have continued to amplify the polarization over the last 50+ years, most importantly: (1) the feedback loop between polarized politicians trying to polarize voters, who in turn vote for ever more polarized politicians. and (2) social media and the internet, which amplify and disseminate polarized outrage.

Some quotes:

226 Mann and Ornstein 2012: “Today’s republican party… has become ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. The Democratic Party … is more ideologically centered and diverse, …open to changes in policy fashioned through bargaining with Republicans, and less disposed to or adept at take no prisoners conflict between the parties…”

The polarizing forces are acting on both coalitions. So why has the Democratic Party weathered them in a way the Republican Party hasn’t? Why are the two parties so different? The answer is twofold: Democrats have an immune system of diversity and democracy. The republican party doesn’t. p229

Republicans are overwhelmingly dependent on white voters. [and Christian voters] Democrats are a coalition [of many ethnicities and religions]. Appealing to Democrats requires appealing to a lot of different kinds of people with different interests.

It is disastrous that democracy has become a partisan issue, with Republicans doing efforts to expand the franchise is conspiracies to weaken their party. It’s possible that a more democratic America would be a more Democratic America, but it’s also possible that a Republican Party that had to compete for more kinds of voters would reform itself to win that competition. (see popularity of moderate GOP Governors in blue states MD, MA) …

[we need more democracy:]
The alternative to democratizing America is scarier than polarization: it’s a legitimacy crisis that could threaten the very foundation of our political system. [with 30% of the population having 70 senators and ruling over the 70% that live in cities and have 30 senators] A more democratic system won’t end polarization, but it will create a healthier form of competition. p257-8

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