Video of the day

You don’t have to know much about team handball to appreciate the awesomeness on display here:

Understanding partisan polarization

Nolan McCarty has a great summary of a APSA report on partisan polarization in the Monkey Cage.  It’s not that long and you should read all of it, that said, I thought these were the most important points:

  • Based on both qualitative and quantitative evidence, the roots of our current polarization go back almost 40 years to the mid-1970s…The timing is much more consistent with explanations based on large historical trends such as the post-Civil Rights realignment of Southern politics and increased levels of economic and social inequality.
  • The evidence points to a major partisan asymmetry in polarization.  Despite the widespread belief that both parties have moved to the extremes, the movement of the Republican Party to the right accounts for most of the divergence between the two parties.  [emphasis mine] Since the 1970s, each new cohort of Republican legislators has taken conservative positions on legislation than the cohorts before them.  That is not true of Democratic legislators.  Any movement to the left by the Democrats can be accounted for by a decline in white representatives from the South and an increase in African-American and Latino representation.


  • While significant disagreement persists as to how much voters have polarized by taking increasingly extreme views, there is a consensus that voters are much better sorted within the party system.  Conservative voters are much more likely to identify as Republican and liberals as Democrats than two generations ago.  Moreover, voters’ partisanship increasingly predicts their positions on issues.  Voters are primarily changing their issue positions to match the partisanship rather than switching parties.
  •  Features of our electoral system such as political gerrymandering and partisan primaries are not likely to be important causes of polarization. [emphasis mine]  That the House and Senate have polarized in tandem suggests that partisan districting cannot be a primary cause and researchers have failed to find much of an incremental contribution.  Similarly, scholars have not identified any substantial impact of the primary system on polarization.

I don’t have a lot to add, but obviously I think that asymmetry point is really important.  Furthermore, as much as people like to blame gerrymandering for polarization, it’s just not the cause.  Gerrymandering is still a very bad thing– it’s horribly anti-democratic– but we cannot blame it for polarization.  And, I do think it interesting that, perhaps far more so than in the past, partisanship is driving all of our issue positions, rather than vice versa.

Sentence of the day

So, the Smithsonian Natural History museum is going to close down its dinosaur fossil exhibit for five years(!!) to renovate.  That just seems crazy.  Though according to the article it is damn slow work to disassemble and reassemble fossils.  When they come back, they’ll have a great new T-Rex fossil to add to the exhibit.  This sentence is just brilliant:

The Wankel T. rex specimen is coming to Washington this spring on a long-term loan from the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns it, and the state of Montana, which has had it since the late Cretaceous Period.

Photo of the day

Via Twisted Sifter:


In this fantastic close up by Alessandro Cancian, we see a chipmunk and bird facing off, both clearly interested in the food that is atop this post. In the photo description page on 500px, Cancian says he used a telephoto lens with a focal length of 420 mm, so he was definitely a fair distance away. Talk about great timing!

Additional photo details: Shutter speed 1/1000, Aperture f/5.6, ISO 400. Taken with a Nikon D3S.

 via Alessandro Cancian on 500px

Americans becoming more liberal?

Yes and no.

Steve Rosenthal cherrypicks issues to argue that Americans are becoming more liberal.  On social issues, he’s certainly right.  To wit:

It’s been well publicized how America has “evolved” on marriage equality…

This progressive trend isn’t isolated to this issue. Over the past 10 or so years, national polls have shown that the general public is becoming more liberal on:

● Immigration. The last time the nation considered immigration reform, in 2006, 52 percent of respondents told Gallup that the priority should be halting the flow of illegal immigration. Just 43 percent preferred to deal with the undocumented immigrants already here. When Gallup asked the same question last July, the numbers had flipped:55 percent thought the focus should be on immigrants already here, while 41 percent said the priority should be strengthening U.S. borders.

●Marijuana. In 2000, just 31 percent of Americans believed marijuana should be legalized, Gallup found, and 64 percent were opposed. The pro-legalization number has since tracked steadily upward. InOctober Gallup polling, 58 percent of respondents favored legalization and just 39 percent were opposed.

● Big business. Americans have grown more mistrustful of big business since 2002, when 50 percent of respondents told Gallup they were “very or somewhat satisfied” with the influence of major corporations. This number bottomed out at 29 percent in 2011 and 30 percent in 2012.

You really want to prove to me that Americans are more liberal then you really need to tackle the basic issue of scope of government, which is the key political divide.  And here the data is also clear that the answer is no, via Gallup:

2002-2010 Trend: Americans' Perceptions of Federal Government's Power

1992-2010 Trend: Perceptions of Government's Role in Solving Nation's Problems

There’s just no way that Gallup data accords with Rosenthal’s conclusion:

And what are the American people saying? That they’re fed up with political obstructionism and conservative policies that have left the country at a standstill. They want a new direction.

No.  They American people are saying they want more liberal laws on marijuana, immigration, and gays, but they are still largely distrustful of too much power in the federal government.


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