The problem with American politics isn’t polarization—it’s rising illiberalism.
Stephanie Slade in the Reason: Something is broken in our politics. Just about everyone knows it, but it can be hard to put your finger on what it is. As the media attempt to grapple with this felt reality, they reach over and over for the same word: polarization. That, we’re told, is the shorthand for what has gone wrong. Where once the country had its share of conservative Democrats, liberal Republicans, and mushy moderates, today the two parties are more internally consolidated—and further apart from each other—than ever. But what if that explanation is missing something? What if there’s a sense in which left and right are actually converging, and the nature of that convergence is the real source of the perception that something isn’t right?
In 2014, Pew Research Center released a report on the crisis of polarization. “The overall share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades,” it explained. “Today, 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican.” According to the report, as the center of gravity within each party shifted out toward the extremes (ideological polarization), dislike and distrust of those on the other side of the aisle increased as well (affective polarization). We disagree on more than ever and like each other less than ever. There you have it: the recipe for toxic politics. Yet by 2021, Pew had settled on a different framework for understanding the American political landscape. In a major report released last fall, the think tank introduced a political typology that focuses attention on the divisions within the left and right. Neither of those camps is a monolith, Pew notes.
In fact, nine distinct subgroups are observable across the spectrum. You have your business-friendly Republicans and your cultural conservatives, your blue-collar Democrats and your progressive activists. Instead of a mushy middle, there are the “stressed sideliners,” less politically engaged than the other groups and, when they do show up, willing to pull the lever for either party. More here.
Honorary contributors to DesPardes: Adil Khan, Ajaz Ahmed, Ammar Jafri, Anwar Abbas, Arif Mirza, Aziz Ahmed, Bawar Tawfik, Dr. Razzak Ladha, Dr. Syed M. Ali, G. R. Baloch, Hasham Saddique, Jamil Usman, Jawed Ahmed, Ishaq Saqi, Khalid Sharif, Majid Ahmed, Masroor Ali, Md. Ahmed, Md. Najibullah, Mustafa Jivanjee, Nusrat Jamshed, Shahbaz Ali, Shahid Hamza, Shahid Nayeem, Syed Hamza Gilani, Mushtaq Siddiqui, Syed Hasan Javed, Syed M. Ali, Tahir Sohail