Matthew Dickinson was dragged back to blogging (good to have him back! Although I'd like to read his WH staff book when it's done) to discuss polarization, and how there's not as much of it out there as some people think. I tend to be on his side of the discussion; I'd note that it's a real debate, however, and I'm glad that he's going to talk more about it in a subsequent post.
All I can add is that what's going on doesn't fit any notion of ideology that I can understand. I saw a couple of people note this on twitter, but you shouldn't miss this from yesterday's NYT look at polarization in one Georgia House district. It's a good article, but the kicker is the must-read:
Mr. Tripcony, the surveyor, said he underwent heart surgery not long ago without health insurance, “a bad blow.” He has been making payments against the cost. He had heard of the online marketplace for insurance that opened on Oct. 1 under the Affordable Care Act.This is partisanship, not ideology, right? He's against the ACA because it's "Obamacare," which means it's Barack Obama, and that's got to be a bad thing. It's certainly not because he disapproves of government involvement in health care, right?
“I just don’t trust it,” said Mr. Tripcony, who has an equal distrust of President Obama. “I don’t like him, and I don’t feel comfortable with anything he’s got to do with.”
Mr. Tripcony said he had a better idea for a system to provide health care at a fair price. “I think it should be the same for everybody,” he said. “One big company, whether owned by the government or private.”
Informed that he had described the single-payer system that Mr. Obama abandoned when Republican critics called it socialized medicine, he said, “Yeah, I know, it’s crazy.”
He said he might eventually seek health insurance under the new system. “In a couple of months, when they get the Web sites working, I may do it.”
The thing is, and this really is a challenge both for survey research and for larger interpretations of what's going on, is that under the conditions that most elites express their partisanship in ideological, rather than partisan, language, then mass publics are going to learn to give "ideological" answers to political questions. But this is a perfect example of how this is all just on the surface. Not that Tripcony or most Republicans are really liberals underneath -- that's not at all what I'm saying. The point is that if you look at it as a matter of coherent ideas driving issue positions, you're going to be lost. Most of us are neither liberals or conservatives, or anything else. Or, rather, we're a mishmash; some liberal ideas resonate with us, some conservative ideas resonate, but none of it particularly constrains our positions on specific questions of public policy.
And what makes it even more confusing is that the political culture generally is anti-party, and pro-ideology. So to begin with some of the most extreme partisans think of themselves as outside of the party they obviously belong to in any objective sense. On top of that, it's considered appropriate to oppose, say, Obamacare because one is conservative, but illegitimate to oppose it because one is a Republican.
Good luck figuring all that out in a relatively brief set of survey questions.