Number One Pick on polarization

Scott Alexander writes,

So although polarization is definitely rising in the US, it’s stable in other countries, and falling in still others. There is no consistent trend toward more polarization in the First World! As Klein points out, this is a strong challenge to any story relying on digital media or social media or the changing media landscape.

But also: the average country at the average time is about as polarized as the US is now. This confirms Klein’s thesis that the US isn’t in a historically unprecedented state of hyperpolarization. It’s coming out of a period of unusually low polarization, into a more normal era.

He is reviewing Ezra Klein’s book on polarization. I would have expected Number One Pick to start the way he usually does, by posing a precise question, looking at survey articles and meta-analyses to get the perspective of the highest status academics, and then digging into some of the literature to see how well supported that perspective is. But instead, Scott mostly discusses Klein’s speculations and offers counter-speculations.

A precise question, which he comes close to asking, would be: will polarization, as measured by voting patterns in Congress and opinion polls in the general public, continue to increase, or is it likely to level off?

I am not going to try to locate an academic article, but I remember Jonathan Rauch wrote a useful essay.

We are not seeing a hardening of coherent ideological difference. We are seeing a hardening of incoherent ideological difference.

. . .In 2017, Pew’s polling found that blacks’ political attitudes have not diverged significantly from whites’ since 1994, or women’s from men’s, or college graduates’ from non-college graduates’. Even across lines of age and religious observance, political attitudes have diverged only modestly. But the attitudinal gap between Democrats and Republicans has risen from 15 percentage points in 1994 to a whopping 36 points in 2017. In other words, the growing, and now gaping, divide in Americans’ political values is specifically partisan. And the growth in partisanship does not reflect a clear or clean ideological divide. First and foremost, the increase in partisanship reflects, well, an increase in partisanship.

I think that Rauch would answer my question by saying that he is somewhat hopeful that polarization will level off or decline, because there are many people who see our current polarization as a problem and are making attempts to alleviate it.

Overall, I would score this game as Rauch first, Alexander second, Klein third. Alexander usually plays better, so I am not suggesting that you draft Rauch ahead of him, but you should consider these results when you get ready for the FITs draft.