Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Party Polarization in Congress

The New York Times Magazine reported a few days ago on the frustrations of lawmakers in Congress.

‘The way [Republican Representative] Davis sees it, the system has become dysfunctional. Bush has so destroyed the party’s public standing and Congress has become so infected with a win-at-all-costs mentality that there is no point in staying. “You know, the Cubs fans used to put the bags over their heads,” he told me when we met for eggs at Mickey’s Dining Car in St. Paul the first morning of the Republican National Convention. “That’s what I feel when you say you’re from Congress, because there are just so many things we’re not doing.”’

Instead, it’s a system of in-fighting, wasted energy spent on re-claiming (or keeping) party majority, and squabbling.

‘By one measurement, Congress is the most polarized it has been in a century. Sean Theriault, a scholar at the University of Texas at Austin who just published a book called “Party Polarization in Congress,” analyzed voting patterns to put each two-year session on a scale. In his study, Congress in its Watergate session from 1973-74 was 29 percent polarized. By 2005-6, it was 46 percent, the highest since the most polarized Congress in history, back in 1905-6, when it reached 48 percent on Theriault’s scale.’

Theriault is a Cambridge author – his book just came out.

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