Polarization isn’t mainly about ideology

If out-group hostility is more important to party identification than support for particular policies or ideologies, we may not actually place very many ideological demands on our parties. Defeating our enemies may be more important than advancing specific liberal or conservative agendas. According to Groenendyk: “If partisans’ identities are increasingly anchored to hatred of the outparty than affection for their inparty, electoral dynamics are likely much more fluid than many accounts suggest. Thus, insurgent candidates with questionable ideological credentials (e.g., Donald Trump) may be more appealing than one might expect in the age of ideologically sorted parties.”

Here is more from George Hawley, via Philip Wallach.  Of course Amihai Glazer understood this decades ago…nor should you forget Bryan Caplan’s “simplistic theory of left and right.


This reminds me of an observation of Hoffer: "Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil."

Yes but there is a true animus against the right that is motivating the left, seethe Democrat who tried to assassinate the Republican Congresssional leadership, or for those without ready access to firearms see Michelle Wolf. There are 3.7 million subscribers to /r/politics, which is 0% about policy and 100% about deep, deep hatred for Republicans and especially for the characiture of a low education, white male. Can anyone say for certain that the left would choose gun policy that reduced gun deaths by 1.5x over gun policy that gored a sacred conservative ox but reduced gun deaths by x? But, as my lefty internet companions are currently saying, “false equivalence”; conservatism is driven by a distrust of quick or radical change, we see this in the constant leftward movement of society, but the hatred of conservatives by the left is orthogonal to policy - it is a pure racist, sexist, xenophobic bigotry. Do you think it ever crosses the San Bee/ PS 199 crowd or those they typify - high 6 low 7 figure households fighting against minority kids in their school, density, trust fund taxes, etc, how hypocritically they are? Maybe that coastal elite hatred of the charicatured yokels is more about their own insecurity in their sophistication and their own racial prejudices? For those with the elite attitude but not the credentials or bank account, isn’t the situation analogous to LBJs statement about convincing the lowest white man that he is better than all black men? The left never seemed so self-satisfied when Obama was President. Maybe they really do prefer that feeling of superiority to policy wins? I hope so. GN

I think you've got it backwards friend.

MAGA. Pruitt/SHS 2024!

He doesn't have it backwards, he just sees the mote in the others' eye and ignores the beam in his own, like all partisans. Partisanship is another word for hypocrisy. To him, those evil lefties are all about hating conservatives over actual lefty goals, but no his side is never like that. To which I say, as ever, LOL.

"To him, those evil lefties are all about hating conservatives over actual lefty goals" Confirming the post?


In reality just announcing some kind of symmetry here without foundation is jsut sleazy, fallacious rhetoric. Business as usual.

To both of you: sigh....

Partisans never see it, like the fish doesn't know it's in water. I call it out for both sides, you mopes do not.

Calling out both sides, reflexively, doesn't help.

If someone opposes Trump because he is stupid, dishonest, dishonorable, and disreputable, the logical response is not "OMG, TDS!"

And critically, when a candidate is stupid, dishonest, dishonorable, and disreputable, the logical deduction is *not* that there must be some balancing figure at the forefront of "the other side."

(Maybe Jill Stein is, if you go that far out, but I don't worry about Jill Stein stalking the corridors of power anytime soon.)

Nobody disputes that, having substituted a ridiculous heuristic for actual thought, you believe yourself wise. Nobody cares for your sighs either.

All we know for sure is I am wiser than you, as our postings here prove.

Demonize the left, ignore the right. A perfect example of the polarization. Thanks for the textbook look!

Yep, a very good specimen of one side's blinkered partisanship.

Recognizing that the actual article title is 'America’s Polarization Has Nothing To Do With Ideology,' this still leads to a certain broader perspective when comparing the U.S. to the world.

Many democratic societies have systems where more than two parties are the norm. In other words, those opposed to nuclear power in Germany can choose between a number of parties, from the CDU (at least the one led by Angela Merkel after 2011) to the SPD to the Greens to Die Linke. One of those parties being two decades old, the other three, each of them representing a different political emphasis/ideology.

You can support the CDU and be thoroughly opposed to Die Linke politically, or vice versa, while being a thoroughly committed supporter of the Energiewende. Further, in the German system, you vote for both your local candidate, and for a party - and it is common for someone to vote for a local candidate that belongs to a different party than the party that was chosen with that second vote.

However, this seems incomplete - 'Because party identification is an important part of personal identity, we want to be good and loyal partisans and we feel good when our team wins.' The plurality of Americans continues to stubbornly not consider themselves to be partisans for one party or the other, regardless of how partisans on both sides attempt to force people to make a choice for one side or the other. This is another one of those things that is much more apparent from the outside than the inside, and can be easily seen in this comment section, with an often amazingly simplistic division based on one's partisan perspective.

And this is where it becomes so American - 'When our party wins elections and enjoys real power, we hope that it delivers on its promises, providing peace, prosperity, and stability.' Since I have never voted for a Democrat nor a Republican in any election in Virginia (still the state where I register to vote), 'my party' has never won any election. And who cares? Why should not having 'my party' win cause an attempt to 'justify our vote choice if we believe the opposing party is worse.' The other two parties are simply two other parties.

'Defeating our enemies may be more important than advancing specific liberal or conservative agendas.'

This certainly seems true. I would expect responsible gun owners and advocates of the 2nd Amendment to heap scorn on a political candidate pointing a weapon at someone in blatant disregard of the most fundamental rules of gun safety (and that is not a partisan dig - you never point a weapon at someone you do not intend to kill being just about the most basic lesson taught concerning gun safety and ownership). It would seem to be an excellent example of the basic point, though one assumes that most responsible gun owners and advocates of the 2nd Amendment will point out that pointing a gun at someone is always a bad idea, unless one intends to kill - call it a sort of natural experiment in terms of polarization compared to rational behavior.

'Defeating our enemies may be more important than advancing specific liberal or conservative agendas.'

Seems just another method of achieving the same thing, if less full-throatedly. Defeating e.g. conservative attempts to restrict abortion advances a liberal goal.

yeah, hate, that's the ticket. the stupid proles don't know what they want, the only reason they could be pissed off about a $20 trillion debt, expensive and ineffectual bureaucracy, intrusive regulations, countless ginned up scare mongering crises requiring even more government, corrupt governance, and overbearing and condescending civil institutions whose chosen few congratulate themselves on their moral superiority, is because they are haters, and racists and sexists and populists and nationalists and authoritarians and if that doesn't work we'll come up with some other labels that will explain away why the malcontents don't appreciate how much they don't deserve their betters.

Yep, an article in The American Conservative is certainly going to represent the sort of attitudes you list.

The context of our growing resentments and enmity toward each other is a cultural inheritance that promotes insatiable desires for status and belonging over the cultivated sense of abundance and connection.

Let the ignorant hordes tussle over their narrow views. What is defended with bitterness and suspicion is not worth defending.

Another misleading meta-analysis attempting to ignore the obvious. The hundred year Progressive project to overthrow the Constitution culminated in the lawless Obama regime. Republican voters attempted to stop it by electing a House majority and then a Senate majority only to see the Republicans fail through lack of will. Facing a choice in the 2016 presidential election, they made the right one and the results are clear. The next step is to clear away the dead wood in the Senate like McCain, Corker, Flake et al and move forward. Trump may not be an ideologue, but he has the right policies and backbone. No other Republican could have withstood this deranged “resistance” from the left and the right.

100% = progressive trend to usurp the constitution and elected representative bodies.

To them democracy sucks. The unwashed majority gets it wrong;, i.e., disagrees with RINO/Chamber of Commerce GOP-ers, Fed econ PhD's or FBI Deputy Directors with "insurance policies." Then the mandarins employ (like monkeys flinging their feces) phrases like "populist authoritarianism" and "dictatorship of the majority." [The US Constitution uses the phrase "the consent of the governed."] To the American mandarin ,e.g. Fed MIT econ PhD's/FBI deputy directors/IRS commissioners, et al elections don't matter. The peoples' votes are wrong. They (the academy, the McCabes/Comeys, mandarins, the media, the deep state, the swamp, etc.) have a "higher loyalty," and any usurpation, crime, lie, assassination, . . . is justified.

"It was not suddenly bred,
It will not swiftly abate,
Through the chill years ahead,
When Time shall count from the date
That the Americans began to hate."

From "The Beginnings" by Rudyard Kipling

When ballots don't matter . . .

The (unwashed?) majority voted for the other guy not Trump.

Wow, that's some grade A trollery. Hope Putin pays well for such lurid excellence.

'Another misleading meta-analysis attempting to ignore the obvious. The hundred year Progressive project to overthrow the Constitution culminated in the lawless Obama regime.'

Yep, that is precisely the sort of 100 year project that The American Conservative seeks to be involved in.

Man, there are times when the proof of a basic premise is so obvious it would be hilarious with even a hint of awareness attached.

As it is, to coin a phrase, this is just sad.

You sound like any number of my old progressive friends expounding about PNAC circa 2002.

Politics seems poisonous to the soul. You look at something like the women’s march and you wonder how people can’t see they are being used And their lowest instincts, hatred and triumphing over a defeated, frankly imaginary, enemy.

I’m imagine right wing folks are just as bad, but I don’t really know any well enough to say.

That doesn't explain why goofy candidates crowd out the less goofy.

Maybe it's because a goofy candidate can afford to focus on the demonization of the other side instead of trying to codify a coherent policy? A coherent policy is often seen as a "less goofy" course of action, but if people don't care about policy, just beating the bad guys, then maybe goofy is what they're looking for.

As one of our anthems says, "A people with no virtue ends up enslaved". It was never Trump or Putin or Comey or Obama or Facebook, it was always Americans. They are the responsible ones dor the sorry state of their country. Will Americans nbe able to take their country back from other Americans?

This is misleading. Sure, most voters aren't ideological (most voters couldn't identify an ideology), but they respond to opinion leaders who are. Many opinion leaders are highly ideological, and are skilled at promoting their ideology indirectly: not by promoting the ideology per se, but with dog whistles that have the same effect. And to be clear, it works on both ends of the ideological spectrum.

A lot of leftists are NOT anti-market, even as a "simplistic" theory, so Caplan's first premise is erroneous. But it certainly seems to be in your own head too!

A definition of "leftist" would be helpful here.
I usually define it to mean a belief in socialism in some form, which is almost certainly anti-market (except for maybe a few anarcho-socialist offshoots).

In the US, there are rightists who believe that Social Security, Medicare, and universal healthcare are socialist in some form. The call for universal healthcare is called socialist on Fox News regularly, for example. These are not anti-market.

These are exactly anti-market.

They are certainly not anti-market. They are government monopsonies, using markets on the demand side.

Anti free market then. Market s always exist, no matter how distorted the government makes them. But when people talk about socialism being anti market, they mean anti free market.

The demand side is completely free market. In the case of Social Security, you can spend the money on whatever you want. In the case of Medicare, you can choose any healthcare provider who will take it.

It ought to be pointed out that evidence that "social cognitive bias" (or whatever else you want to call it, such as "motivated social reasoning") is NOT fact-based, goes back decades further than Glazer in political science research.

This point has resurfaced recently via research in the subfield of "climate change communication", which shows that some climate deniers have greater scientific understanding than people who support precautionary measures to avoid the unpredictable worst.

'climate deniers have greater scientific understanding '

Which is why that group is so notable in pointing out the massive flaws in the climate change models concerning the Arctic compared to actual real/near real time data.

Arctic ice cover is receding WELL IN ADVANCE of the results predicted by those models. So, those particular deniers don't understand the possible implications of the more drastic real change, or else, they don't understand the methods of scientific inquiry. In either of these two cases, we shouldn't count them among those with greater scientific understanding.

It would appear that scientific understanding of the kind that is usually tested, or even rewarded by professorships etc., is analytical only.

The questions you ought to address are 1. Why do people who have greater scientific understanding than the average person think that their analytic prowess outweighs the synthetic cognition that complex systems remain incapable of deterministic prediction? And, 2. Why do people with scientific understanding then revert to group-motivated reasoning to defend their outlook on the matter of climate change?


Five year old headline says "FIVE YEARS AGO TODAY… Al Gore Predicted the North Pole Will Be Ice Free in 5 Years"


Interesting. Given how uncertain it is, that isn't a bad prediction.

"Given how uncertain it is..." 5 years is rather precise for for something so uncertain.

"that isn't a bad prediction" No, given how much ice remains, it was a terrible prediction.

What is your point, that it won't happen because Al Gore was precisely wrong, so therefore, deniers are justified in sticking their heads back in the sand? Best current estimates are the Arctic will be ice-free (which means in the summer) by mid-2030's. The question you SHOULD focus on, is what the current science indicates about what this might do to the agricultural growing season in the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere -- and how fast.

Brand new update which ought to concern people who understand science.

For those infatuated with Jordan Peterson (who might that be?), here is my take on how Mr. Peterson would explain why people are not ideological: “Idiotic political polarization is still a bloody catastrophe because life is a catastrophe,” Peterson tells his audience, one of his long hands balled into a fist. “You have an evil heart — like the person next to you.” He tells them, “kids are not innately good — and neither are you.” I would describe Peterson's philosophy as a combination of Hobbes and the prosperity gospel, the latter appealing to the same people who oppose anything that might suggest weakness (e.g., political correctness). Of course, this view of life fits perfectly with an ideology that promotes self interest and disruption, tearing down in order to build up, one in which there are winners and losers, the winners and losers deserving their fate. It's not ideology, stupid, it's self-interest.

Caplans theory is idiotic, and he is justly shredded by the first dozen or so comments

Whats leftists are if you insist on a simplistic heuristic is pro-fairness. They correctly view what we call markets to be in fact rigged affairs.

This view is in fact shared, if not incoherently, by many Trump voters and Libertarians

And in practice it ends up meaning that you have something I want, and I'll use the power of government to take it away from me.

This was stated very clearly by Obama. You didn't build it.

The right does similar things, if it can be simplified, a more defensive posture, you can't take it away from me.

Politics and power are a zero sum game. If Kanye likes Trump, and his followers like Kanye, then Pelosi doesn't get to be House leader after November.

It has always been this way, but for a very large number of people it really didn't matter. You could go about your business, your family, your community without these idiots intruding. That isn't the case anymore. Some crank somewhere has a blitheringly stupid idea and it costs you time and money.

The right - expressed via the GOP leadership - has a very clear track record of using government offensively to enrich some at the expense of others, or enabling or looking the other way as cronies do so privately. And also allowing others to harm or cheat me (i.e. via pollution, fraud, and external costs) on the road to enriching themselves. Not to mention invariably demanding that I subsidize them.

The left has no monopoly on seizing people's money to enrich others (hello, defense procurement, bailouts, and the Fed) an honest appraisal of the subsidy and preference system sees all sort of wealth transfer by force - going upwards. The right wingers who complain bitterly about food stamps while ignoring defense fraud are morons, there's no other word for it.

And yes, Obama's statement, always twisted out of context of course, clearly reflects the left wing analysis that wealth in our system is built through and dependent on the system of subsidies and preferences that are baked into our system inseparably. When you got rich, you drove on MY roads and used MY courts and MY patent system and got a loan subsidized by ME and probably employed poverty-level workers on food stamps that I pay for. And probably started out selling on cost-plus government contracts.

Look, here we are back in Ayn Rand land, where wealthy people wake up and exude their genetic superiority each morning. creating wealth through sheer force of individual will. So any effort to get them to kick in to fund a system they do not rely on is theft.

In other words, neither group has a problem with wealth transfer via policy and power per se, the difference depends on who it goes to.

The left looks at "downward" transfer and says "that's okay with me." And looks at "upward" transfer and says that's unfair.

The right looks at downward transfer and says that's evil. And then it pretend that upwards transfer doesn't exist. Or, as a backup, it makes a perverse claim that upward transfer is some sort of socialist plot - as if the Marxists are responsible for defense fraud and the banking industry.

The same applies to power. The left views representative government as the only possible check on other forms of power, i.e. corporate, and so the left gets concerned when they see the government no longer representative of the people, but instead captured by those with power.

The right pretends that corporate power is either always good, or doesn't exist. Or, as a backup, they view corporate capture of government power as a socialist plot.

In the end, the root right wing analysis is that, no matter what the evidence, the government is being run primarily for the benefit of poor people, at the behest of the Marxist ideologues in power. Which is truly epic idiocy.

I'd argue that the left position isn't necessarily that representative government is good. People on both sides seem perfectly happy to establish an authoritarian government designed to force the opposite side to make concessions (aka, do as I say).

Admittedly, it's a spectrum, with extremists on both sides seeking authoritarianism and people closer in to the middle seeking representation and willing to ensure that other viewpoints can shape final policy. It's just that the extremists have waged war on the middle, while simultaneously trying to masquerade as that middle.

It's a total tug-of-war for the Overton window.

And in that tug of war, there seems to be precious little awareness on the right that since around Reagan's election, they have been winning, hugely.

Which is why I can't wait for everyone who was born before 1990 or so to die off already, so we can at least get away from their 1970's framing myopia.

The left wants massive, wasteful giveaways for the middle class (free college?) and cultural domination through terror, not elimination of the last vestiges of poverty in America. The latter goal I could sympathize with.

"Whats leftists are if you insist on a simplistic heuristic is pro-fairness."

George Orwell salutes you!

Poe, the God of trolling, salutes you

Everyone wants fairness. Some progressives think it's not fair that almost all programming jobs go to men. Some alt-rightists think it's not fair that we pressure companies to hire on quotas and take less-qualified candidates for their chromosomes or skin color. MRAs think society's treatment of rape is unfairly stacked against men, both when they're plaintiffs and when they're defendants. Feminists think society's treatment of rape is unfairly stacked against women. Some leftists think the income distribution is unfair and think it should be changed. Some conservatives think the current income REdistribution is unfair and should be changed.

You might as well have written that what leftists are, in a simple heuristic, is pro-good. Not very useful; conservatives would also tell you that they are pro-good and pro-fairness. Your second sentence however is much more productive. We could define Leftists to be anti-market. What are conservatives then? Anti-compassion? I guess I'd go with anti-administration.

Similar to Caplan, I don't think this holds equally for both sides (though I do disagree with how he divides the sides).

In the main, self-described progressives are more ideologically driven than self-described conservatives. Conservatives have developed more of a dislike for the other side than vice versa because not only are they subject to scorn from the other side politically, but they are also subject to scorn from the other side culturally as the overwhelming majority of those who produce the mass media in America are progressives. Progressives have a much wider space in the overall culture to where they can safely retreat from the fray without inadvertently having their ideological beliefs challenged. Every time a conservative turns on a television show or watches a movie outside of a fairly narrow range of options, they run the risk of having their ideological beliefs portrayed in a negative light. That has encouraged a siege mentality among conservatives.

That means that conservatives are more willing than progressives to support candidates who are less than ideologically pure so long as they promise to stick it to the other side. Though I think progressives are moving more in that direction than conservatives are moving in the other one.

I hate to reintroduce Virtue to the discussion, but doesn't that lost value allow us to distinguish?

When you "hate on" some group are you attacking the virtuous or the disreputable? When say, you attack the terrible person who wants to spend more on schools? Or you choose the terrible person attacking the value of a free press in an open society?

You may be called partisan either way, but to virtuous, make some virtue your goal.

What if the virtue is freedom from government interference and respect for property rights? Your side wouldn't see the virtue in those, the other side would.

I must not have a side, because I recognize the tension, and need for balance between the two.

How about this theory: Maybe if the mainstream Dem and Republican candidates were NOT virtually indistinguishable neocons, things would have been different.

Anti-omni-intervensionism and its successive recent failures and disastrous unintended consequences associated has a very strong undercurrent. Hence the popularity of Obama and Trump.

*recent failures and disastrous unintended consequences of the neocons.

It's the evil neocon conspiracy. Muahahaha!

So, apparently we are at war in Yemen now.

Were partisans ever ideological? We who follow politics closely are never representative of the public at large, but often believe that everyone is like us.
I'm partial to Jonathan Haidt's analysis of the different moral values and how people place the emphasis as an explanation.

False equivalence all the way down.

"Ideological sorting" is skin-deep and seems like a remarkably blindered way to describe an exceedingly fluid period in American politics.

Hatred toward the outgroup is the province of the zealots at the margins of the parties. For most of the masses, political argument is something much closer to sports rivalry. Most of the time, when people switch their votes to the other party, it is not out of ideology but rather a perpetual hope for improved governance, and often in response to a perceived failure of the president in power. Hence the swing to Obama after the financial crisis, and the swing to Trump out of concern for slow growth and the effect of immigration on employment. The pendulum will swing back eventually over something equally quotidian, and political scientists will add a new epicycle to their theories.

Maybe. If I'm not mistaken, Karl Rove was of the view ca. 2004 that swing voters accounted for about 7% of the electorate. As recently as 1988, about 1/4 of the voters changed their mind during the campaign.

I feel the fundamental cause of the deepening divide among American electorates somewhere lies in the perceived feelings of alienation/exclusion from modern automation driven production process.

However, with the political cleavage deepening in the United States, I often wonder whether there is any perpetual solution to this problem? The reason this question bothers me so much is because I feel the divide between the two Americas has broadened with the passage of time and is virtually irrecoverable.

With high income and educational inequality, a large part of the population is increasingly finding themselves cornered and excluded from the new technology-driven production process. All they can do in this automated economy, is to participate as consumers while contributing minimum as suppliers.

The constant drive towards automation and shrinking market for traditional skills bring anxiety, fear, anger, and nostalgia. They consider ‘change’ the fundamental cause behind their problems. They seem to find solace in the past when their skill had demand and they possessed proud identities. Therefore, elections end up being “choice between the past or the future”. Subsequently the age-old mantra ‘when there is demand, there ought to be supply’ takes its own course. Politicians target insecurity and fear to create their comparative advantage over parties that promise growth and prosperity. As the traditional workforce keeps getting displaced from the modern economy, we see politicians supplying promises to bolster the demand to ‘go back to roots’ and retrace the path of God.

On the contrary, people with economic prosperity, who possess means to earn necessary skills enter the automation economy not just as consumers but also as sellers (part of the high-paid work force). For them, the new world opens possibilities of enhanced knowledge, challenge, and prosperity. This tech-economy helps them realize their dreams to expand their social, financial, and intellectual prowess to the global audience. From social interaction to intellectual cooperation they break the shackles of their local identity and emerge as global citizens.

These are the two fundamentally different groups with diametrically opposite and mutually incompatible preference, outlook, and aspirations making the ambiance ripe for deep polarization.

As society embraces automation, the polarization would deepen and it is safe to assume that the downward trend of the floating voters ratio would continue undeterred.

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