The new Pew Research Center report on polarization is a gold mine of insights into how the sharp partisan polarization, so pronounced in Congress and among political elites, has penetrated the broader public. Pew researchers trace significant increases in ideological consistency and partisan animosity from 1994 to 2014, especially pronounced among those who regularly vote and engage in more demanding forms of political participation. Not surprisingly, among citizens more generally, they find much less ideological consistency and partisan affect.
Their findings are consistent with recent scholarship on the increasing ideological constraintamong voters in both parties, the stronger alignment of partisanship and ideology, and the deeper cultural and geographical roots of the hyper-partisanship or tribalism in the electorate.
The authors of the Pew report find it more difficult to deal with the question of whether these important changes are comparable for the two parties. A brief section on “Is Polarization Asymmetrical” carefully navigates the treacherous waters often associated with this question. They note the shift in ideological consolidation among Democrats between 1994 and 2014 is more pronounced than among Republicans, leaving today’s parties at roughly the same place. But they qualify that finding by also noting the sharper movement right among Republicans in the last decade and the fact that the increasing Democratic ideological consolidation is associated with a nationwide leftward shift in attitudes on same-sex relations and immigration.