What is partisanship and why is it increasing? Unit 3 - Political Parties
What folks used to say:
- Watts: “Both parties agree about far more things than they disagree about.”
- They both attached great importance to the constitution and the wish to maintain America’s system of government. Neither favours changing the economic system.
- It was rarely the case that parties were united against the other.
- Each party consisted of different groups, or factions, that often had more in common with a group or a faction from the other party.
- In 1993, there were 26 Democratic Senators with a more conservative voting record than liberal Republican James Jeffords.
What is happening now:
- In 2013, not a single Democratic Senator had a more conservative voting record than the most liberal Republican Susan Collins.
- The differences “between” parties are now more significant than the differences within.
- There is a refusal to work together in order to bridge these divides.
- Taken together, the above two points are the very definition of partisanship.
- Increasing partisanship has paralysed the US political system, which relies on compromise and upon more than one branch of government supporting a law (owing to the separation of powers).
Why is partisanship increasing?
- There are no more “centrists”.
- In the House of Representatives in 2005, there were 56 Congressmen/women with a “centrist” voting record, where it was difficult to tell if they were liberal or conservative.
- In 2013, there were just 5.
- Republicans are more closely linked to a specific ideology – conservatism. Likewise, the Democrats are more closely associated with liberal beliefs.
- The break up of the “Solid South” in the 1970s meant conservatives in this area left the Democrats and sided with the Republicans. This resulted in an already conservative party becoming even more conservative. It took away the conservative wing of the Democrats, leaving a more liberal base.
- There are now no Democratic governors in the South and only 6 southern Senators (out of 22) are Democrat.
- Redistricting has resulted in fewer competitive seats, meaning that House members do not have to “reach to the middle”. In 2014, there were only 90 “swing seats” out of 435 in play. Members of Congress are therefore more likely to face a strong competitor in the primaries and from their own party, which increases the requirement to appeal to the "base". The Tea Party launched a series of primary challenges to incumbent Republicans in the 2010 Mid-term elections, which has forced the "establishment" of the party to move to the right.
- Tribal loyalty has increased: there is greater support amongst registered party supporters “for their own guy”. In Obama’s fifth year in office, only 11% of registered Republicans gave the 44th president a favourable approval rating, compared to 71% registered Democrats.
- The rise of new media and radio talk shows have further cemented the differences, with conservatives preferring to watch Republican-favouring news channels like Fox. Even what liberals and conservatives watch and read is different.
- In 2010, 78.6% of votes in the Senate split along party lines, the highest percentage since 1922.
- Not a single Republican in either House of Congress supported Obamacare
- Perhaps this vote, and others like it, owes much to the rise of the "partisan presidency", whereby presidents win election by appealing to their core voters in the hope that their side will turn out in greater numbers. Bush Jnr pursued a core vote strategy in 2004 by opposing gay marriage.
- The election of America's first black president undoubtedly unleashed existing racial prejudice that has found a home in some elements of the Republican Party.