I’ve seen lots of thoughtful people discussing their concerns about political polarization in the U.S. Thought I’d provide a little context, history, and data (most of which is few the amazing @pewresearch) to help inform the conversation.
The notion that Ds and Rs hate each other SO much right now is… true. Political scientists call this “Affective (emotional) polarization,” to distinguish it from “policy polarization.” (h/t @ylelkes and friends)
Polarization on policy positions came first. Affective polarization among citizens (the left and right hating each other) came second... and came on STRONG.
Let’s talk about why…
Back in 1960s political scientists (like Phil Converse) were worried that Americans’ belief systems were too internally IN-consistent. That's right. They thought we weren't ideological ENOUGH.
They worried about these folks who chose a little from column A and a little from column B because they feared those citizens could be easily manipulated by elites and easily influenced by the “news of the day.”
Political scientists (see @jonmladd ) suggest that this era in which Converse was writing was actually an odd time of particularly HIGH trust in media/gov’t and LOW political polarization (post WWII and all), so the lack of citizen ideologues shouldn’t be that surprising.
People like Converse thought that ideological “sorting” of the parties would be GOOD, because it would create citizens who belonged to two distinct parties that represented real differences in policy positions / plans for the nation.
Through the civil rights era and into the era of Roe v Wade, the two parties actually underwent just such a realignment.
With activist coalitions working to influence elites in Washington, the Ds and Rs over the course of the 1960s – 70s started to represent two very different policy platforms.
And in the decades that followed, citizens realigned as well. Pew documents fewer and fewer Americans holding a “mix” of ideological views, instead holding more “internally consistent” policy positions (just like Converse wanted!).
In part this was the natural extension of elites’ policy realignment, but it has been fueled several MAJOR CHANGES:
1)Media Fragmentation
2)Strategically curated electoral maps (Gerrymandering)
3)Changes in Campaign Finance laws
Media fragmentation: instead of a mass audience consuming the same general information, cable and internet “Break up America” (see Joe Turow) into tiny little niche audiences.
At first these audiences were broken up by race (BET), gender (Lifetime), and age (MTV). Then things got more sophisticated...
Breaking up audiences by not only demographics, but also by interest/values allowed advertisers to EFFICIENTLY reach exactly who they wanted.

1996: Enter Fox News
Early 2000s MSNBC changes programming to mimic ideological approach but on the left.
This matters a LOT because exposure to belief-confirming information moves ideologues further apart (see Talia Stroud).
It also cultivates two entirely different issue agendas, views of what’s important, and evaluation of who is responsible for America’s problems.

So, when Obama said we're living in "two different worlds" he was pretty accurate.
Next up: our friend Gerry Mander.

Gerrymandering’s effects on polarization are easy: eliminating the competitiveness of electoral politics by redrawing districts allows ideologues to get away with NOT having to moderate issue positions for a heterogeneous electorate.
Result: stronger partisan ideologues in DC who can accurately claim they are just “representing the views of their fringey constituents.”
And next of course ... Campaign Finance:

Citizens United. Unlimited sums of money are now allowed to flow into electoral politics from corporations, unions, and individuals. And this money can become dark money (anonymous) by coming through a so-called “501c4” organization.
Over the last decade, outside spending in American elections has increased from $500 million in 2010 to $1.7 billion in 2016.
And you know who donates to political campaigns?

HINT: It’s NOT bipartisan, moderate, middle-of-the-road folks. About 99% of those funds coming from groups that are politically liberal (44%) or politically conservative (55%).

In 2016, only 1% of outside group spending came from groups that were bipartisan or neither left nor right.
So, how and why do all these things make Ds and Rs HATE each other?
In world of fragmented political media, that IS their business model.

Contempt is their currency.
Under Obama’s presidency, Fox's earnings went through the roof.
Currently, under Trump’s presidency, the same is happening with Maddow.
And when partisan money flows into electoral politics, it is used to mobilize voters. There is no bigger mobilizer than anger and outrage…
So these are their rhetorical tools of choice.
SuperPACS From the left…
SuperPACS from the right…

The result: citizens respond “appropriately” to the stimuli they are bathing in… and being to see the “other side” as fundamentally evil. Ta-Da: Affective Polarization.
the increasing belief that the OTHER side is hurting the country's well-being...
Increasingly UNFAVORABLE views of the OTHER PARTY... among both Democrats and Republicans.
What I, personally, find most problematic about this entire trend is that it is not organic. It is not a "natural outgrowth of political/social changes" in the country. I view it all as largely strategic - an orchestrated effort that serves the interests of a powerful few.
A powerful few who operate with cynical motives in the media industry;
A powerful few who operate with cynical motives in the political establishment;

And all of this chaos is being exploited by malicious actors who want nothing more than for Western Democracy to fail.
@Deggans - saw you talking about this this morning...
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