Paul Frymer

Debating the Causes of Party Polarization in America

It has only been a decade, but the mood in America since the new millennium has largely been one of anger and disenchantment. This decade began with a disputed presidential election, followed by 9/11, two wars, a bad economy, and numerous natural disasters that have captured the public imagination. Pundits from the right and left use television, radio, the Internet, and cell phones to rant about all that is wrong with the politicians in office. Even the brief moment of hopefulness, unity, and call for nonpartisanship in the wake of Barack Obama’s 2008 election quickly descended into a bitter partisan war of attrition. His historic legislative victory on health care reform was marked by intense ideological rancor and partisan line drawing, in contrast with the overwhelming bipartisan majorities that passed similarly historic social welfare legislation in the 1960s. Since then, Democrats and Republicans have spent much of their time in separate trenches exchanging threats and barbs, and little time deliberating and compromising on policy.