Category Archives: political polarization

“Wisconsin Supreme Court flips liberal, creating a ‘seismic shift’”

Patrick Marley for WaPo:

Liberal groups, long accustomed to seeing the court as hostile terrain, quickly maneuvered for potential victories on a string of major issues. They filed lawsuits to try to redraw the state’s legislative districts, which heavily favor Republicans. And the Democratic attorney general sought to speed up a case challenging a 19th-century law that has kept doctors from providing abortions in Wisconsin.

“It’s an absolute seismic shift in Wisconsin policy and politics,” said C.J. Szafir, the chief executive of the conservative, Wisconsin-based Institute for Reforming Government. “We’re about to usher in a very progressive state Supreme Court, the likes that we have not seen in quite some time. And it’s really going to change how everything operates.”

The turnaround on the Wisconsin court is the result of an April election that became the most expensive judicial race in U.S. history, with campaigns and interest groups spending more than $50 million.

At stake in that race, with the retirement of a conservative justice who held a decisive vote on a 4-3 court, was the question of who would make crucial rulings in a swing state that could decide the winner of the 2024 presidential election. Conservatives had controlled the court for 15 years, during which they upheld a voter ID law, approved limits on collective bargaining for public workers, banned absentee ballot drop boxes and shut down a wide-ranging campaign finance investigation into Republicans.

Janet Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee County judge, won by 11 points and flipped control of the court to give liberals a 4-3 majority when she was sworn in on Aug. 1. Protasiewicz, who declined interview requests, spoke openly during her campaign about her support for abortion rights and opposition to what she called “rigged” maps that have given Republicans large majorities in the state legislature. Political strategists said her blunt style helped her win even as court observers fretted that she was making judges look like politicians instead of evenhanded referees.

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“Why Tribalism Took Over Our Politics”


Ahead of his arrest on Thursday in Georgia, Donald Trump repeatedly told his supporters about the legal peril he faced from charges of election interference. But the danger wasn’t his alone, he said. “In the end, they’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you,” he told a campaign rally.

It was the latest example of the Republican former president employing a potent driver of America’s partisan divide: group identity. Decades of social science research show that our need for collective belonging is forceful enough to reshape how we view facts and affect our voting decisions. When our group is threatened, we rise to its defense.

The research helps explain why Trump has solidified his standing as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination despite facing four indictments since April. The former president has been especially adept at building loyalty by asserting that his supporters are threatened by outside forces. His false claims that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 election, which have triggered much of his legal peril, have been adopted by many of his supporters.

Democrats are using the tactic, too, if not as forcefully as Trump. The Biden campaign criticized Republicans in Wednesday’s presidential debate as “extreme candidates” who would undermine democracy, and President Biden himself has accused “MAGA Republicans” of trying to destroy our systems of government. 

The split in the electorate has left many Americans fatigued and worried that partisanship is undermining the country’s ability to solve its problems. Calling themselves America’s “exhausted majority,” tens of thousands of people have joined civic groups, with names such as Braver Angels, Listen First and Unify America, and are holding cross-party conversations in search of ways to lower the temperature in political discourse.

Yet the research on the power of group identity suggests the push for a more respectful political culture faces a disquieting challenge. The human brain in many circumstances is more suited to tribalism and conflict than to civility and reasoned debate.

The differences between the parties are clearer than before. Demographic characteristics are now major indicators of party preference, with noncollege white and more religious Americans increasingly identifying as Republicans, while Democrats now win most nonwhite voters and a majority of white people with a college degree.

“Instead of going into the voting booth and asking, ‘What do I want my elected representatives to do for me,’ they’re thinking, ‘If my party loses, it’s not just that my policy preferences aren’t going to get done,’ ” said Lilliana Mason, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist. “It’s who I think I am, my place in the world, my religion, my race, the many parts of my identity are all wrapped up in that one vote.”…

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“G.O.P. Contenders Feed Voter Distrust in Courts, Schools and Military”


Ron DeSantis says the military is more interested in global warming and “gender ideology” initiatives than in national security.

Tim Scott says the Justice Department “continues to hunt Republicans.”

Vivek Ramaswamy has vowed to “shut down the deep state,” borrowing former President Donald J. Trump’s conspiratorial shorthand for a federal bureaucracy he views as hostile.

As Mr. Trump escalates his attacks on American institutions, focusing his fire on the Justice Department as he faces new criminal charges, his competitors for the Republican nomination have followed his lead.

Several have adopted much of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric sowing broad suspicion about the courts, the F.B.I., the military and schools. As they vie for support in a primary dominated by Mr. Trump, they routinely blast these targets in ways that might have been considered extraordinary, not to mention unthinkably bad politics, just a few years ago.

Yet there is little doubt about the political incentives behind the statements. Polls show that Americans’ trust in their institutions has fallen to historical lows, with Republicans exhibiting more doubt across a broad swath of public life.

The proliferation of attacks has alarmed both Republicans and Democrats who worry about the long-term impact on American democracy. Public confidence in core institutions — from the justice system to voting systems — is fundamental to a durable democracy, particularly at a time of sharp political division.

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“What Meta’s New Studies Do—and Don’t—Reveal About Social Media and Polarization”


LAST WEEK, THE first papers from a collaboration between Meta’s Facebook and a team of external researchers studying the 2020 election were finally published. Two of these studies asked: Are we trapped in filter bubbles, and are they tearing us apart? The results suggest that filter bubbles are at least somewhat real, but countering them algorithmically doesn’t seem to bring us any closer together.

Some are interpreting these results as proof that Facebook divides us. Others are claiming these experiments are a vindication of social media. It’s neither.

The first study tried to figure out whether we’re really in informational echo chambers, and if so, why. Unsurprisingly, the segregation in our information diets starts with who we follow. This mirrors offline life, where most people’s in-person social networks are highly segregated.

But what we actually see in our Feed is more politically homogeneous than what is posted by those we follow, suggesting that the Feed algorithm really does amplify the ideological leanings of our social networks.

There are even larger partisan differences in what we engage with, and Facebook, like pretty much every platform, tries to give people more of what they click, like, comment on, or share. In this case, it looks like the algorithm is sort of meeting human behavior halfway. The difference in our information diets is partly due to what we’ve chosen, and partly the result of using computers to guess—often correctly—what buttons we’ll click….

Many people will be looking to the current batch of experiments to either crucify or exonerate Facebook. That’s not what they do; this is bigger than Facebook, and these studies are early results in a new field. Meta should be commended for undertaking open research on these significant topics. Yet this is the culmination of work announced three years ago. In the face of layoffs and criticism, the appetite for open science on hard questions may be waning across the industry. I’m aware of at least one large research project Meta recently canceled, and the company said it “does not have plans to allow” another wave of election research in 2024. Many in the research community support a bill called PATA, which would give the National Science Foundation authority to vet and prioritize research projects which platforms would be obligated to support.

Simultaneously, the AI era is dawning, and our information ecosystem is about to get a lot weirder. We’re going to need a lot more open science on the frontiers of media, machines, and conflict.

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“Changing Facebook’s algorithm won’t fix polarization, new study finds”


For years, regulators and activists have worried that social media companies’ algorithms were dividing the United States with politically toxic posts and conspiracies. The concern was so widespread that in 2020, Meta flung open troves of internal data for university academics to study how Facebook and Instagram would affect the upcoming presidential election.

The first results of that research show that the company’s platforms play a critical role in funneling users to partisan information with which they are likely to agree. But the results cast doubt on assumptions that the strategies Meta could use to discourage virality and engagement on its social networks would substantially affect people’s political beliefs.

More coverage in NYT.

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“The numbers behind Trump’s confidence the Jan. 6 indictment won’t matter”

Politico dives into GOP opinion on January 6:

The most common sentiment from Republican voters about Jan. 6, 2021, isn’t that it was an assault on democracy or that Donald Trump is the true winner of the 2020 election.

It’s that they are over it….

As a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll from late December showed: 73 percent of Republicans agreed that there has been too much focus on Jan. 6….

[O]nly 16 percent of GOP voters said the events of Jan. 6 would have “a major impact” on their vote in the 2024 presidential election. That could, however, include the small-but-real cadre of Republicans who approve of the attack on the Capitol and supported Trump’s efforts to remain president despite losing the election.

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New ELJ Article: “Voter Perceptions of Secrecy in the 2020 Election”

Here’s the abstract of the article by Lonna Rae Atkeson, Eli McKown-Dawson, M.V. Hood, and Robert Stein, finding that Republicans are more concerned about the secrecy of their ballots since 2020:

Modern democracies pride themselves on enacting and implementing laws and procedures to ensure ballot secrecy. Notwithstanding these efforts, Gerber et al. (2013) show in 2008 and 2010 that a substantial portion of the electorate does not believe their ballot is secret, and a majority of voters freely share their vote choices with others. We demonstrate that similar dimensions of ballot secrecy exist across time. Although levels of psychological and social secrecy remain generally comparable from 2008 to 2020, our findings do diverge from Gerber et al. (2012) in terms of which groups are more likely to exhibit higher levels of insecurity as related to ballot secrecy. Chief among these is the partisan divisions that came to the forefront in the 2020 election, with Republicans and Democrats now significantly different in regard to their levels of psychological and social secrecy. More specifically, we find 2020 voters, especially Republicans, have grown even more insecure about the secrecy of their ballot and less inquisitive about others’ vote choices. Our findings also demonstrate that voters who are in the political minority at the local level are less confident about the secrecy of their ballot, compared with those whose vote choices match the political majority.

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“After fitful starts, Trump Jan. 6 investigations hurtle toward charges”

WaPo on recent developments in the federal, Georgia, and Arizona investigations, as well as this week’s charges in Michigan:

The proliferation of charges and expected charges marks the most extensive effort yet to hold accountable those who attempted to help Trump remain in office after he lost the election. And because they come as the former president makes vindication a central pillar of his 2024 campaign, experts say they will mark an extraordinary test of the nation’s criminal justice system and political institutions.

“I think we are in as precarious a situation as we’ve ever been,” said Republican attorney Benjamin Ginsberg. “I don’t know what the chances are of things really going off the rails, but no question that there is a toxic mix unprecedented in the American experiment.”

The wide-ranging probes come at one of the most polarized times in modern U.S. history, and voters are responding in partisan ways. Trump’s detractors are cheering the prospect of a potential wave of prosecutions after wondering for years if they would ever come. His backers see the developments as the clearest sign yet that his opponents — a group they say includes government institutions such as the Justice Department and FBI — will use every tool available to sink Trump’s campaign.

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“Donald Trump promises a post-democratic second term”

Philip Bump in WaPo, riffing off yesterday’s NYT story and the recent AP-NORC poll: “What Trump proposes … is a collapse of the idea of a democratic government with temporary stewards, an extension of his own misunderstanding of the position he once held to a wide array of federal departments. If polling is any indicator, much or most of his party wouldn’t object.”

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“No Labels taking next steps in search for presidential candidates for third-party ticket”

Fox News reports that the emergent centrist, No Labels party will be forming a committee to start vetting potential presidential candidates.

“No Labels is aiming to get on the ballot in all 50 states in order to be in the position to possibly field a third party ticket next year if President Biden and former President Trump are the major party nominees in 2024.”

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Lone Judicial Voice Supporting Trump’s Extraordinary Theories Running for PA Supreme Court Seat

Bolts Magazine has an in depth report on the candidacy of Pennsylvania, Appellate Judge Patricia McCullough,  entitled “The ‘Stop the Steal’ Judge Who Wants a Seat on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.

“‘Republican judges across the country stood up and said, “This isn’t right.” If you’re the judge who said that this passes the smell test, that raises real questions,’ [Daniel] Fee said, calling McCullough a ‘national outlier of Republicans across the country.’

Judges of all political stripes rejected Trump’s claims in late 2020. The Washington Post tallied at least 38 Republican-appointed judges had ruled against Trump in the five weeks following the 2020 election. That included a Trump nominee in federal court who called a lawsuit to overturn Wisconsin’s results “extraordinary,” and the supreme court in Arizona, which is filled entirely with justices appointed by Republican governors.”

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“Virginia becomes the latest GOP-governed state to quit a voter data partnership”

NPR: Virginia on Thursday joined several other Republican-led state in withdrawing from a multistate partnership (ERIC) that until recently was viewed as a bipartisan effort to share voter information. The shift came after “[a] far-right website targeted the organization last year with a series of articles claiming ERIC was a left-wing plot to steal elections. That set off a chain reaction of grassroots pressure in conservative states.”

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Emerging Fight Over Party Control of Nominees

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein reports this morning on efforts by the Georgia Republican Assembly, a conservative faction within the state GOP, to change the party’s rules to permit the state party to block candidates from qualifying to run as Republicans “if they’re deemed to be insufficiently conservative or a ‘traitor’ to the party.” The article is a caution for those who have been arguing that returning control of party nominations to the party and its leaders would moderate our politics as compared to the primary system. It all depends on who those party leaders are, doesn’t it? The Georgia Republic Assembly has been steadily working itself into positions of power within the party–not unlike the efforts of the Proud Boys to take over the Republican Party in Miami-Dade County. For now, the establishment GOP in Georgia is optimistic it will fend off the extremists.

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The Republican Party’s Invisible Primary

Seth Masket, writing at Politico, shares results of his survey of GOP county chairs about their current leanings in the 2024 presidential primary.

“Overall, this survey suggests a group of party insiders that hasn’t made up its mind, but is growing more inclined to back Trump.”

This shift comes after “Trump sharpened his attacks against DeSantis” and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted Trump. Masket analyzes trends in responses to periodic surveys designed “to track the ‘invisible primary’ for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.” The ultimate question is whether this is a representative sample of GOP county chairs or if those most likely to respond are also those furthest to the right. Of the 3,000 surveys sent to every county chair in the country, only 127 responded — compared to 187 in the earlier survey in which DeSantis was fairing better. 63 chairs answered both surveys.

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