Polarization: Partisan and Real


Tyler Cowen observed on Twitter that “political polarization has been rising since the 70s, and the importance of assassination in U.S. politics has been going down.”

I think this is mostly a reminder that partisan polarization is a very particular sort of thing. If you go back in time 45 years you’ll find that Martin Luther King, Jr and George Wallace are both influential political figures. And the substantive gap between their views is much, much bigger than is the gap between the views of any comparably prominent people today. But they were both Democrats! In the intervening years I think we’ve mostly seen a narrowing of the range of policy options that receive serious consideration (mostly, but not entirely, by eliminating bad ideas) but we’ve also seen the national political parties transform into something resembling real left vs right ideological coalitions rather than patchworks based on region and ethnicity.

This is all, I think, totally fine. But to an extent our political institutions need to evolve to catch up with the new reality. And the greater coherence of the parties has led to an explosion in wild claims about the evils of the other political party that are detached from the relatively narrow range of the policy debate.