Who is responsible for political polarization in America?
Category: News & PoliticsVia: s • one month ago • 11 comments
Jason Willick, that rare conservative Washington Post columnist who consistently delivers pro-conservative commentary, demonstrates that it’s Democrats, not Republicans, who are driving political polarization in America. Well-informed conservatives know this to be true. However, it will come as a shock to the Post’s readers, though most of them will ignore or blow off Willick’s argument.
The title of Willick’s piece — “On immigration, Democrats are the ones driving polarization” — suggests that his analysis is confined to that one set of issues. It is not. (The title was probably selected by a Post employee). Willick’s argument focuses on immigration, but it extends to same-sex marriage, guns, religion and taxes, and could have extended further than that.
As to immigration, Willick writes:
Immigration has been perhaps the most polarizing issue of the past decade: It was the subject of Obama’s most boundary-pushing uses of executive authority and the key issue in Donald Trump’s outsider bid for the Republican nomination in 2016. Now border security is roiling Congress and could prove decisive in the 2024 election .
Partisan opinions on immigration have indeed polarized, as these events suggest. But it’s Democratic opinion that has driven the partisan divorce, as Trent Ollerenshaw of Duke University and Ashley Jardina of the University of Virginia show in their paper, “ The Asymmetric Polarization of Immigration Opinion in the United States .” They write: “Among Republicans, opinion on immigration has remained mostly stable” since the 1990s. Meanwhile, “the marked liberalization in immigration opinion among Democrats has left partisans more divided on immigration than at any point since national surveys began consistently measuring.”
Americans’ average feelings toward immigrants who are in the country illegally “have grown warmer” since 1988 — from 37 out of 100 in 1988 to 42 in 2004 to 49 in 2020. But “these warming trends emerged only among Democrats,” the authors note, so that “the partisan divide in evaluations expanded from 8 points in 1988 to 28 points in 2020.”
The divergence is even starker on the question of whether immigrants take Americans’ jobs. In 2004, just 14 percent of Republicans and Democrats said immigrants were “not at all likely” to take Americans’ jobs. In 2020, the figure among Republicans was roughly the same — 16 percent — while for Democrats it soared to 53 percent.
The same pattern exists on the question of immigration levels and the proper legal status of illegal immigrants:
In 1994, just 5 percent of Democrats and Republicans on both sides wanted immigration levels to increase. They drifted apart gradually in the 2000s and suddenly in the 2010s. In 2022, 41 percent of Democrats, compared with 10 percent of Republicans, supported higher immigration levels. (These figures, which Ollerenshaw sent me, come from General Social Survey data released after the article was written.)
On the question of legal status for people in the United States illegally, Republican opinion has liberalized significantly, albeit not as fast as Democratic opinion. Only 20 percent of Republicans supported “amnesty programs for law-abiding illegal immigrants” in 2010, the second year of the Obama administration, compared with 44 percent in 2022, the second year of the Biden administration. For Democrats, the percentage increased from 58 percent to 88 percent over the same period.
As to issues other polarizing issues, Willick writes:
Journalist Kevin Drum has documented how opinion trends on abortion , same-sex marriage, guns, religion and taxes also don’t match the narrative of Republican radicalization as the driving force in the culture wars. And a 2019 New York Times analysis of party platforms showed that in both 2012 and 2016, the Democratic platform moved sharply to the left. The Republican platform, by contrast, moved modestly to the right in 2012, and modestly toward the center in 2016. [Note: The year Donald Trump was the GOP nominee for the first time.]
Drum is a liberal Democrat. But he’s honest enough to call his article, “If you hate the culture wars, blame liberals. ” It comes complete with charts and statistics that document his point.
Now: maybe you're personally delighted by the Democratic Party's leftward march and maybe you're not. It doesn't matter. Despite endless hopeful invocations of "but polls show that people like our positions," the truth is that the Democratic Party has been pulled far enough left that even lots of non-crazy people find us just plain scary—something that Fox News takes vigorous advantage of.
From an electoral point of view, the story here is consistent: Democrats have stoked the culture wars by getting more extreme on social issues and Republicans have used this to successfully cleave away a segment of both the non-college white vote and, more recently, the non-college nonwhite vote.
But Democrats aren’t as clueless as this passage implies. They are using the Republican blowback against leftist aggression in the culture wars to their advantage. The harshness of that blowback enables Dems, with the vigorous assistance of the mainstream media, to paint Republicans as the culture war aggressors and to gain support in suburbia.
This statement near the end of Willick’s piece captures the present state of affairs:
Partisan sorting and ideological changes among America’s elite have thrust the Democratic Party leftward, and the Republican Party has embraced more extreme tactics in response.
In my view, the Republican Party has no real choice but to respond powerfully to the Democrats’ extreme positions. But it should find champions who are better able than Donald Trump and certain members of his MAGA amen chorus to present a more human face and a more focused and effective approach to the conservative counter-offensive.