Polarization of political talk is definitely going up

Matthew Gentzkow, Jesse Shapiro, and Matt Taddy have a new NBER paper Measuring Polarization in High-Dimensional Data: Method and Application to Congressional Speech.

We study trends in the partisanship of Congressional speech from 1873 to 2009. We define partisanship to be the ease with which an observer could infer a congressperson’s party from a fixed amount of speech, and we estimate it using a structural choice model and methods from machine learning. The estimates reveal that partisanship is far greater today than at any point in the past. Partisanship was low and roughly constant from 1873 to the early 1990s, then increased dramatically in subsequent years. Evidence suggests innovation in political persuasion beginning with the Contract with America, possibly reinforced by changes in the media environment, as a likely cause. Naive estimates of partisanship are subject to a severe finite-sample bias and imply substantially different conclusions.

It seems this move toward polarization starts around the time of Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America, and it starts with the Republican Party.  It remains an open question, however, how much this corresponds to greater polarization in more concrete terms.  To some extent symbolic polarization may substitute for the ever-diminishing ability of politicians to disagree about how to allocate discretionary spending.  Let them eat ideology!

Comments

Remember, remember! The fifth of August.

How on earth did you know my father's birthday?

I meant the first day of the Rio Olympic Games, the Definitive Games, the Games to End All Games. I wish a Happy Birthday to your father, though. Many happy returns.

"the Games to End All Games." Wow, I hope not, but they could be.

After Rio-2016, everything else will seem anticlimactic and pointless. For generations to come, every time a city proposes to host the Games, people will ask, "Will it be like Rio-2016?". And the unanimous answer will be, "Nothing ever will be like Rio-2016". The motto of Rio-2016 is, "A New World".

Make Brazil Great, It Hasn't Been Tried Yet

Brazil shall rise again! Rio-2016 Games mark Brazil's Peaceful Rise, the same way Tokyo and Beijing marked Japan's and China's. The motto of Rio-2016 is, "A Brand New World". We are making History.

Alas, he is no more. But thank you for your kind thought.

Oh, I am sorry to learn that! My condolences.

'We study trends in the partisanship of Congressional speech from 1873 to 2009'

The most interesting timeline would be something along the lines of 1820 to1860, as the increasing partisanship of those decades led to historical events allowing for a certain amount of testing. Admittedly, tweaking the weighting of vocabulary evaluations from that earlier era might be a bit tricky, but undoubtedly they already worked out some schema to deal with how language use changes over generations. Not to mention party affiliation - a typical 1950s era yellow dog Democrat is not all that much different from a current era southern Republican. Sometimes, it is not the party affiliation that matters, but the beliefs that a party is willing to represent, which change over time.

Strom Thurmond being a fine example of this in modern practice - he shifted in 1964 from being a Democratic Party member to being a Republican, after having already run in 1948 as an independent presidential candidate. And seeing how Sen. Thurman served from 1954 to 2003, he actually represents someone whose career spans more than a third of the time studied, and was not the only person to switch parties, particularly in the south.

Grover Norquist told me in the late winter of 1994 that the GOP was going to capture the House that November. At the time I was amazed to hear this prognostication from a Washington insider since the GOP had never held the House during my lifetime. It seemed like a law of nature that the Republicans weren't competitive in the House. What Gingrich accomplished in 1994 by rewriting the rules of how to compete was an extraordinary achievement.

That may be so, especially in respect to the Republican Party. But has the country been better off for it, and for where it has led? Hard to discern.

So was it the change in R tactics that triggered the partisan shift or was it the D response to having lost a house that had been theirs by right of inheritance? Or was it an underlying change in our people that made us more evenly split, and thus more competitive and partisan?

Look at Trends in Party Identification, 1939-2014

Republicans were a minority party until the Reagan revolution. But they were not able to advance past that high water mark. Since the Contract With America they have been losing share while increasing ideological distance from the center. Go figure.

In my opinion, as a former Republican and current independent, the Republicans have been *happy* throwing people out of the life boat, and *absurdly* thought they were winning.

The Democrats were smart enough to never do that. You can call them polarized, but DINO was never a word. They remained big tent.

I don't interpret that graph in the same way. It looks like the Democrats were dominant up until the Reagan revolution. Then they fell off a cliff and have never recovered. The Republicans took a bump upward at the time and have declined somewhat in the last decade. But all of Republican losses in the last decade went Independent.

It is interesting to look at those changes with the "independent" line in there as well. In the sixties, as the Democrats started to lose, the independents started to rise, even before Reagan. Reagan did take a notch out of the Democrats, but just a smidgen from the independents, who rose again after his terms.

And of course the story of the last 10 years has been strong losses by Republicans as "independence" reached an all time high.

"And of course the story of the last 10 years has been strong losses by Republicans as “independence” reached an all time high."

Yes, but that's only if you are looking the self identification graph. It's clear that a lot of those independents vote Republican.

2006 Congress: Senate 55% Republican and the House was 53% Republican.
Currently, Senate is 54% Republican and the House is 57% Republican. It's hard to characterize continued Republican control of Congress as "strong losses".

I am looking at identification because I am talking about how people relate to parties, and polarization.

This is very straightforward, if the Republicans have ideas that are appealing, identification will increase. If they are championing narrower issues, identification will drop.

Winning a vote, in the end, is good for the party, but it is obviously not as strong a base of commitment as identification.

"This is very straightforward, if the Republicans have ideas that are appealing, identification will increase. If they are championing narrower issues, identification will drop."

I don't think this is the mechanism behind a lot of political identification. In fact, if we are in a polarized era, I think it is precisely because Party identification has become detached from policy proposals, and is instead more of a signal of which racial, ethnic, or cultural identity group you happen to believe yourself to be a part of (or want to be a part of).

Spot your own contradiction. What single identity group does the Democratic party serve?

Because if it is serving diverse groups, multiple identities, with core policies appealing to a majority, it is doing old time politics, not identity.

The other party, pushing people out, is doing identity.

Check out @hardball's Tweet:

https://twitter.com/hardball/status/755173745765986305?s=09

You can't stop being a partisan hack it seems.

I was talking about both parties. If you want to play pretend that somehow the Democratic Party is about ideals and the Republican Party is about identity, fine. But you're wrong, and your opinion is directly drawn from your hackery.

I think all Trump and followers have today is to call everyone a partisan.

"Did you hear what that guy said?"

"Partisan!"

"What?"

"Only a partisan would actually listen to what they say!"

Since Reagan, Republicans who refused to promise voters a free lunch were thrown out of the part.

Today Reagan would be thrown out of the Republican Party for claiming a tax hike will create jobs, which he did when unemployment had reached 10.8%, following 16 straight months of job losses following his signing of his 1981 huge tax cut plan.

Mention the need to hike any tax for any reason, you get booted off the Republican island of free lunches.

Need to fight a war? Start with a tax cut and telling voters to go shopping or on vacation.

When told bridges are falling down, start with plans to cut taxes, then borrow and spend, but on the condition as few American workers get paid to build the bridge as possible - the Chinese government has invested hundreds of billions in steel mills, so Chinese steel is cheaper and better for building bridges.

Trump is the perfect free lunch promising Republican. Workers are paid too much. Taxes are too high. Everything is crap. But look at how great Atlantic City is thanks to Donald Trump's job creating investments to make Atlantic City GREAT!

Very good post. Both parties have gone so far downhill, from the days of Reagan/Bush I and even Clinton. If the Reps could have just found an actual Reagan for these times, a freaking optimist, he/she woulda creamated Hillary. But look what happens. To both sides.

And if the Dems had found an actual Clinton, Trump would have no chance.

Roger Clinton for President!

Is Socks Clinton still alive?

Um no: George Clinton for President. One Nation under Groove!

I want to hug each of these posts, but yours is the best of all.

Something tells me that "Put a glide in your stride, a dip in yo' hip and come on up to the mothership." might not work as a political slogan...

Are you kidding? So much better than "I'm With Her" or "MAGA"

Melania just plagiarized the 2008 convention speech of Michelle Obama - the wife of the person her husband rails against everyday. This is either sabotage (from outside or in) or Trump & Melania are the stupidest presidential couple who ever ran.

According to this study's definition, Melania was just being non-partisan.

Its not either/or, could be both.

This is exactly why political experience is important. Remember how Ben Carson got caught flatfooted about being a Seventh-Day Adventist? Even if he had unsuccessfully run for mayor before this election cycle, that would have come up and he would have learned how to deal with it.

It's very late in the process for Trump to be making rookie mistakes.

Yep, just about any of the field of Reps trying to get nominated would have killed Hillary, except Carson. Cruz and Christie would have had to fight like Trump does. Any of the others win in a landslide.

Apparently 56% of Americans think Clinton should have been charged. (Which goes beyond what I think, which is that it just shows she just wants to hide from FOIA requests.) But Trump is the worst candidate to try to make hay out of that. Are we supposed to think Trump would be a stickler for the rules?

Considering his own commitment to lying and deception, obviously not.

Are we supposed to think Trump would be a stickler for the rules?

She had to go way out of her way to have the system set up and to have the State department's system configured to send documents to her system. Retired FSOs (see Lewis Amselem) have said they'd have been fired and prosecuted for doing anything similar. Trump does not have to be a 'stickler for rules' to avoid doing things of this nature. Just making use of the extant infrastructure and standard procedure would have kept Hilligula out of trouble.

Of course Hillary's a big ol' liar. The thing is Trump is too, with at least as much to hide (hello tax returns?). If you weren't a partisan hack you'd be ripping him too.

You seem hyper-partisan.

The GOP had an optimist in their primary field. They just acquiesced to being hijacked by a narcissistic conman.

Yes I know, they had a couple. I liked Pataki (I may have been the only one). I'm just saying this election is a disaster no matter who wins, but in the Reps case it's an own goal.

"the ease with which an observer could infer a congressperson’s party from a fixed amount of speech"

So, how do they take into account the effects of changes in speaking/writing over the last century? A modern reader has an advantage when it comes to sussing out the party of a pol as there are key planks that vary between the two major parties much more now than in the past.

That's on top of the greater informality and increased conciseness of writing today over that of the past. Try reading, say, Bakunin, without your eyes crossing as you try to parse paragraph long sentences.

"But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts."-- George Washington

Bland statements that anyone would say are non-partisan and also useless for getting information.

"We need good schools." "God bless America." "I fight for American families." "This is the greatest country on earth." "Democracy is great." "We must plan wisely and carefully."

Related: Melania just plagiarized the 2008 convention speech of Michelle Obama - the wife of the person her husband rails against everyday. This is either sabotage (from outside or in) or Trump & Melania are the stupidest presidential couple who ever ran.

Steve Randy Waldman had an interesting theory on twitter: That they did it deliberately to provoke the kind of people who would care. "the goto move of the Trump campaign has been to do stuff that outrages elites but not his potential voters as a means to free publicity."

That's a stinker of a trial balloon.

I can believe it. So maybe she lifted a bunch of careworn cliches.

I mean, First Lady cliche plagiarism is serious stuff. Joe Biden is merely veep.

Nowhere good for Dems to go with this.

This is not super important, and as more reasoned commentators are noting, not about Melania.

It is however an unforced error, and one that can make you reasonably question the professionalism of the campaign.

https://imgflip.com/i/17mhj2

What portion of voters base their votes on the "professionalism of the campaign," and what portion of that tiny minority hasn't already made up their mind?

Voters don't care directly. But at a meta-level this indicates problems with the campaign. Campaigns involve a lot of unseen hard work like targeting voters and getting out the vote on election day.

"Steve Randy Waldman had an interesting theory on twitter: That they did it deliberately to provoke the kind of people who would care. "

I tend to doubt the stories about these kind of errors being deliberate. It was probably a lazy speech writer. That being said, this will probably turn out to be another win for Trump. The Left will howl in outrage over a very small issue. Seriously, this is the candidates spouse, giving a speech at a political convention. This story will be history by next Monday.

No, Trump is currently making his second and third unforced errors. The second is that it is just coincidence. The third is that it's Hillary's fault.

Seriously, it would have been so easy for him to diffuse this. Be Trump. Say "You know what, Michelle gave a great speech. And my wife gave a great speech. She was obviously looking how other speeches had been done, and connected to something she believed it. Things I believe in ..."

Candidates' spouses are to be seen, not heard.

Especially Trump's. She'd be the hottest first lady in history and it's not even close. Makes Jackie K look like a bag lady.

"Especially Trump’s. She’d be the hottest first lady in history and it’s not even close. Makes Jackie K look like a bag lady."

At the very least she'd be the best looking First Lady since Jacqueline Kennedy.

As I just said she's WAY hotter than Jackie. Come on, man.

Alright, way hotter for the win.

;)

OMG, the side by side video is devistating:

https://twitter.com/workwthecoach/status/755268176242364416

and possibly devastating

Related because it requires insane hyper-partisanship to believe this is in any way important?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you James Fallows:

http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/07/trump-time-capsule-44-melania-channels-michelle/491912/

Do points 1, 2, and 3 just not matter to you?

Who here is actually making a partisan argument?

The guy you just linked seems to be making a partisan argument. As a former speechwriter for a Democratic President, his non-partisanship is questionable.

If you don't think trying to make hay from "plagiarism" in the Convention speech by the wife of a Presidential candidate is insane hyper-partisanship, you're too far gone. I don't know what to tell you.

And you just made an ad hominem.

I specifically asked you about points 1, 2, and 3. You attacked the guy instead.

Pretty big fail and partisan tell, there.

I think points 1, 2, and 3 are idiotic partisanship by an idiotic partisan. Or perhaps more charitably, by a political junkie who needs to entertain other political junkies to get clicks by pretending any of this matters.

"And you just made an ad hominem."

An ad hominem is when you point out something unrelated to the point as an attack. Pointing out that the author is a former speechwriter for a Democratic President is directly relevant to his potential partisanship.

So, you guys are actually dumb enough to think "just a partisan" from you is fine, but no one could ever say that about you?

Rise to the level of respect you expect.

I'm not a partisan. I am literally not a member of any political party. I have voted once for a Democratic Presidential candidate (under, I believe, the Liberal Party) and twice for Libertarian Presidential candidates. I believe the Democratic and Republican Parties are corrupt, damaging and dangerous to the nation, and should collapse.

You are a partisan. You interpret the world in a biased way based on your desire for the political team you affiliate with to win.

All of you are right. It's a sloppy sign of a sloppy campaign, but it's also in and of itself not a big deal and won't change any votes from Rep to Dem. But the sloppy campaign is a real thing, and again one of the reasons the Reps have given this most winnable of elections away with their nomination.

Why shouldn't campaigns be sloppy? Isn't the expectation of some kind of perfectly tailored campaign precisely what leads to a stranglehold on the electoral process by big money (which can pay for "professionalism"), two corrupt parties, and by the types of power-hungry sociopaths who can stomach two-to-four years of trying to avoid any misstep?

Perhaps so, it would be nice if we could have a UK-style 3 month or so election period. But we can't because 1st Amendment.

The silver lining is that showing the ability to execute the long, complex, expensive campaigns are good rehearsals for showing that you can run the complex, expensive US Government. Trump is showing the world what many already knew, he has no ability to be the executive of a truly complex organization like the USG, let alone a campaign to get there.

Eh I don't buy it being much of a rehearsal. They seem to be highly different skill sets to me. The most pivotal skill for running a long, expensive campaign is getting people to give you money, by implicitly (or explicitly) implying a quid-pro-quo after your election. The second is doing everything possible to behave perfectly for a couple years. Possibly for far longer (Mitt Romney, though it didn't work out).

And I think you can see the weakness of the campaign as a rehearsal by looking at its results. Are our Modern Presidents in a class of their own, far above the fools of old? If you make a list of who you consider to be the Top 10 Greatest Presidents, what portion do you think would make it through a modern campaign? And how about out of the 10 Worst?

No doubt, as I said I wish we could go back to when campaigns were a lot shorter, cheaper, and less ridiculous. I also agree that the best candidates don't go anywhere near it for that reason among many others. The best ones don't run at all, which is why I often write in people like Colin Powell (1996) or Mike Bloomberg (2016, unless I vote to Feel The Johnson)

You could also reconfigure this as a different question: why was US political partisanship less notable than that of other countries for 120 years? In the 1980s, at least watching from far-off Australia, the US system was still notable among developed nations for the degree of overlap between the views of representatives from the two main parties (Scoop Jackson, Nelson Rockefeller etc). In some ways what we have seen since looks like an overdue a reversion to the global mean. Obviously that has its downside, but it's the same downside that everywhere else already had.

Because from 1873 to 1990, one could not "infer a congressperson’s party from a fixed amount of speech," or policy views easily, but could instead "infer a congressperson's party" from such details as which side of the Civil War their ancestors fought on, or in the Northeast, whether they were Protestant or Catholic, or other ethnic details.

One country which is similar is the Republic of Ireland, where to most outside observers there is little difference in ideology between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, and again the difference is simply which side on the Irish Civil War did they fight.

Easy answer David. Patriotism. For most of our history Country >> Party.

Sadly now one party has broken that rule. One party, not two, has litmus tests for memberships, handshakes to make sure you believe all the right crazy things (yes, GW).

GW seems a strange abbreviation for young earth creationism - http://wonkette.com/582788/how-old-is-the-earth-golly-gee-republicans-running-for-president-just-dont-know

Yeah, as I've mentioned I think creationism is the wedge that split the party. And as you cite, it is freakin' unbelievable that smart people had to play dumb the way they do in those quotes.

anon, you're referring to the fact that it's unbelievable that debate moderators asked it when they would never ask the question at a Democratic debate, which would also force Democrats to play dumb to avoid offending those among their base that think similarly? (Take a look at the polling sometime; even though a fair number of those voters have shifted parties in recent years, it would be a wedge issue with Democratic voters as well.)

We know that would happen, since when Clinton and Obama were asked about their views on gay marriage, for example, in 2008, they played dumb and lied-- and their more sophisticated supporters ignored it, knowing that lying to fool the rubes was necessary. (Just as Goolsbee and others told everyone to ignore Obama's anti trade statements.)

Dude. The Republican Platform today:

“man-made law must be consistent with God-given, natural rights; and that if God-given, natural, inalienable rights come in conflict with government, court, or human-granted rights, God-given, natural, inalienable rights always prevail; that there is a moral law recognized as ‘the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God’…”

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

It's amazing how similarly worded those two sections are. Anon, I think you've found yet another example of Republican's plagiarizing. Good Job!

It's striking to me how different they are. One refers to the supremacy of nature, explicitly avoiding religious terminology. The other refers to the supremacy of religion. Guess which one was written by christians and which one by deists?

One party, not two, took up the "real Americans" meme.

Some of this might be that America was always pretty diverse and wide-ranging, 21st century history notwithstanding. From Federalist #10:

"The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other."

Maybe social media is undermining that last sentence.

Anyway, I think the American Presidential system plays a role too. It's like a national referendum every four years. Parliamentary systems don't have something like this.

I suspect that what Americans call "polarization" is simply having a normal political system, with parties having well-defined ideologies, instead of being only vague confederations of personalities.

The mystery here (and perhaps repeating what David Walkers says in the last comment) why this only happened since the 1990s, when in the rest of the democratic world it happened since the 19th century (specially after the introduction of the universal suffrage, with the correspondent decline in the old notables' parties and the rise of the modern mass parties).

The election of Congress is local rather than national politics. Incumbents historically have not needed the party to continue getting elected. The phenomenon that bears explanation is the emergence of Parliamentary esque party discipline in Congress in the past 20 years.

In this episode a member of the Republican donor class says that Koch convinced him (them) to fight a war, instead of battles:

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/591/get-your-moneys-worth?act=1#play

What are the well defined ideologies of the Democratic Party of 2016, 2008, 2000, 1992, 1980, 1976, 1968, 1960, 1940, 1930, ...?

What are the well defined ideologies of the Republican Party of 1960, 1920, 1900, and before?

What about Republicans since 1990?

Could a politician who says
"When we first built our highways, we paid for them with a gas tax, a highway user fee that charged those of us who benefited most from the system. It was a fair concept then, and it is today. But that levy has not been increased in more than 23 years. And it no longer covers expenses. The money for today's improvements will come from increasing the gas tax, or the highway user fee, by the equivalent of a nickel a gallon -- about $30 a year for most motorists.

"The repairs and construction are expected to stimulate about 170,000 jobs, with an additional 150,000 jobs created in related industries. Another provision in this bill adds up to 6 weeks of unemployment benefits for people who have used up all their unemployment insurance. Such badly needed assistance will put more than half a billion dollars into the pockets of family budgets of our long-term unemployed.

"While the action we take today will bring some relief to those of us who so want to work and yet cannot find jobs, its principal benefit will be to ensure that our roads and transit systems are safe, efficient, and in good repair. The state of our transportation system affects our commerce, our economy, and our future."

... today win the Republican nomination for any elected office in local, State government, or to Congress?

"symbolic polarisation": since they are all bribed by the same people, it's likely to be mostly symbolic.

One of the several reasons to hope that Trump wins is to find out whether he's on the same gravy train as the rest of them.

He's already a con man who's been on quite a few gravy trains, and he's shown an absolute willingness to get on any of the establishment ones so far in this campaign. There is no reason to hope that that liar and fraud wins.

But the alternative is the liar, fraud and warmonger Hellary.

Which means she should get along just fine with the UK's current foreign minister - talk about keeping the special relationship special. Though Clinton has demonstrably less skill at insulting foreign leaders in verse, it should be noted.

Erdogan deserved it. The contest in support of free expression should be applauded. Johnson's support for free expression should also be applauded. I wish Frau Merkel had done likewise.

BoJO deserves criticism for many things, but his "wankerer" verse is not one of them.

Hellary has demonstrably little skill at anything bar lying, I'd have thought. Geeze she's awful. Even that chump Sanders would have been better.

I still hope to see what sort of President the mountebank will make.

'The contest in support of free expression should be applauded.'

Of course - but oddly enough, being in charge with formulating and implementing foreign policy concerning a man who just faced down a coup in a strategically located country playing a major role in the Middle East after basically calling him a goat fucker is unlikely to help the UK advancing any policy, even it only concerns free expression in Turkey.

But I am not a Tory concerned with Turkey entering the EU, and if the goal is to prevent that, well - yep, still the wrong man for the job, actually.

'I still hope to see what sort of President the mountebank will make.'

I doubt that Johnson will be running for president any time soon, if only due to tax complications arising from the fact he is still legally an American citizen. Which is truly amusing in this sense - if Johnson was to travel to North Korea, in the eyes of the American government considering him an American citizen, he would need to file the paperwork to get a waiver to travel there, or face an array of penalties, including, at least conceptually, being placed on the no fly list, and thus barred from flying into the U.S.

I was not kidding about Johnson putting the special into the special relationship.

We define partisanship to be the ease with which an observer could infer a congressperson’s party from a fixed amount of speech,

By this standard, last night's Day 1 of the RNC was not very partisan at all. After all, a person listening to Melania Trump's speech wouldn't be able to tell whether it was her or Michelle Obama speaking, considering that whole paragraphs were plagiarized. (And it's true, there were no references to the conservative ideology, the Constitution, or anything like that, but a decent amount of vague references to "America" in other speeches.)

You are an example of the polarization of American politics.

'Plagiarized'? From whom?

Melania Trump is a lapsed fashion industry employee who is married to the winning candidate. Why would you expect her to yap about the federal constitution or quote Edmund Burke? Most people are not intellectual hobbyists. Eleanor Roosevelt and Nancy Reagan had a well developed set of political views arrived at independently of their husband's development and career and Rosalynn Carter and Hilligula certainly wanted in on their husbands' act. The rest were being good sports.

If I were advising either Obama or Clinton, I'd have them issue a statement in defense of Ivana Trump.

Obama: "I keep saying we are one United States of America who have all benefited fromantic the great opportunities offered which are passed down through the generations from parents to children. My mother and my grandmother both made me person I am by providing great opportunity."

Michelle: "Just like Barrack, I too speak of the great benefits of my family, what my parents provided me, and now what Barack and I are trying to provide for our children. So, it just shows how we are not as divided as so many claim that Ivana sound just like Barack and I who speak just like millions of other Americans."

I know that would unleash a torrent of vile attacks on the Obamas for daring to claim they are just like Ivana Trump in loving their family.

My wife just told me that she wakes up and wonders who has been blown up or shot or killed now. That reminded me that the Mothers of Invention were noting the same think in the Sixties - http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/f/frank_zappa/trouble_every_day_lyrics.html

So much for change; I call BS on these academic twits.

Conclusion first, study second (with apology to the Red Queen).

Did they control for increased internet usage?

The Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Thus, beginning in 1990, we no longer had a THEM for US to coalesce around.

I think this an overlooked factor. During the Cold War, remaining united in the face of a significant foe was paramount. Since then there's significantly less pressure to remain united in front of an enemy.

Might the purpose and reach of Congressional speeches changed ever so slightly between 1873 and 2009?

"The United States presidential election of 1876 was the 23rd quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 7, 1876. It was one of the most contentious and controversial presidential elections in American history."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1876

Why are researchers at the NBER intruding on the territory of psychologists and linguists? It's not as if there are not unresolved questions in economics.

In 1950, the parties were collecting pool of people who subscribed due to one or more of a half-dozen affinities: family history, region; race, ethnicity, confession and immigration wave; patron-client relationships, and social stratum. There was some correlation between party affiliation and programmatic or ideological viewpoints, but it was weak or hit-and-miss. Over the next four decades, you saw a gradual erosion in the population of Bourbon Democrats, white Southern populists, Pinto Democrats, liberal Republicans, and temporizer Republicans, followed by an abrupt shakeout in 1992 and 1994. By 1995, the partisan and ideological / programmatic divisions were pretty much coterminous. It's not surprising you have more partisan rhetoric in a conciliar body organized according to a party bipolarity.

IMO, polarization took off with Rush Limbaugh. Up to that point, mass media was uniformly center-left. With the rise of Limbaugh, a segment of the population had an alternative to validate their views, and an increasing number of people moved away from the positions espoused by mass media.

This trend accelerated with the advent of the Internet and Fox.

When the right abandoned mass media, mass media then moved harder left, to copy the success of Fox/Limbaugh. The center then abandoned mass media as well, leaving the two sides completely polarized.

The impact of Limbaugh on America really cant be understated.

As Limbaugh used to aptly say,

"I AM equal time."

Limbaugh was hardly unique. I remember listening to several like him living in the Midwest in the 60s and 70s.

But Charles "Father" Coughlin had a bigger reach than Limbaugh ever had, and he's faded in contrast to Coughlin who was shutdown in 1942 by his bishop on the promise the government would go after him for sedition.

Democrats held the House for forty years. It's easy in that environment to suppress partisanship in the mass media, such as it was at the time.

Has the low hanging fruit of political compromise already been picked?

The thing is, for all the 'rhetoric', no one ever accomplishes much. That's in part because of inane parliamentary rules which the worthless Senate Majority Leader says are 'absolute'. It's also due to an architecture of committees not configured to the array of executive agencies nor matching from one chamber to another. It's also due to division of committee function between 'authorization' and 'appropriation'.

Fair enough. There are some frictions there.

But there are good explanations for these rules and differences.

The House is four times the size of the Senate, so a division of labor is going to have more specialized committees.

The House has duties reserved for it (taxation) and the Senate as well (confirmation).

Not accomplishing much seems to be a feature, not a bug, but the ratchet of government has gotten pretty tight since the 1st Congress nonetheless.

Also, the 104th Congress accomplished quite a bit despite an unfriendly occupant in the white house.

Which forty years are you referring to?

It seems to me that the polarization has increased as frustration with conservative "theory" of of political economy fails increasingly to deliver the promised results.

One shift in the past 8 years is an end to blaming "liberals" for all the economic problems.

Once people like Teddy Kennedy are gone, how can you blame liberals when there are no liberals around. So, they switched to blaming Obama for everything. Now, they blame Clinton for everything. The entire past 25 years has been terrible for "you" because of Clinton's failed policies.

Oddly, one of Clinton's failed policies is invading Iraq, except the VP picked voted to invade Iraq, and Obama opposed it like Trump claims he opposed it.

But Trump is not going to be weak like Obama, OR Clinton, because he's going to defeat and wage war on an increasingly long list of enemies and threats.

I grew up as the Vietnam War was unfolding, and there was debate about the escalation but in the context of the cold war, for which there was debate. There were those where it was black and white, but there was a lot of shades of gray. Plus rainbows.

Dr. Strangelove represented most of the shades, which shows how complex the arguments were that even comedic exaggeration could have a spectrum.

Braindead seems to likewise capture the absurd lack of complexity today.

Back in the 60s, the jokes about wanting a one armed economist made sense. Every cost had a benefit back then. Every benefit had a cost.

Since 1980, the Republicans, backed by economists, have promised only benefits with zero costs.

Get rid of government and everyone will win! Phil Gramm got rid of government as far as financial regulation is concerned in Dec 2000, and the result was a decade of financial disaster which was now legal theft by deception. Greenspan who preached what Gramm got into law was for a time stunned by the result.

The idea that a Republican could ever say this today is just a sign of how much the Republican party has embraced the concept of greatness without cost, which is always a matter of paying workers:

"When we first built our highways, we paid for them with a gas tax, a highway user fee that charged those of us who benefited most from the system. It was a fair concept then, and it is today. But that levy has not been increased in more than 23 years. And it no longer covers expenses. The money for today's improvements will come from increasing the gas tax, or the highway user fee, by the equivalent of a nickel a gallon -- about $30 a year for most motorists.

"The repairs and construction are expected to stimulate about 170,000 jobs, with an additional 150,000 jobs created in related industries. Another provision in this bill adds up to 6 weeks of unemployment benefits for people who have used up all their unemployment insurance. Such badly needed assistance will put more than half a billion dollars into the pockets of family budgets of our long-term unemployed.

"While the action we take today will bring some relief to those of us who so want to work and yet cannot find jobs, its principal benefit will be to ensure that our roads and transit systems are safe, efficient, and in good repair. The state of our transportation system affects our commerce, our economy, and our future."

Republican President Ronald Reagan on Jan 6, 1983.

Reagan could never be nominated by today's Republican Party because he was too liberal big government crony capitalist.

Good thing too, Reagan was an awful president, do I have that right? Not that you ever reply.

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