Religion and Democracy in the United States: Danger or Opportunity?

By Alan Wolfe; Ira Katznelson | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
RELIGION AND PARTY ACTIVISTS
A “Perfect Storm” of Polarization
or a Recipe for Pragmatism?

GEOFFREY C. LAYMAN

FAR AND AWAY the dominant theme in recent observations about American party politics is that the two major parties are growing increasingly polarized, with the Republican Party moving in a conservative direction on nearly all major issues of public policy while the Democratic Party stakes out consistently liberal ground. Party polarization has been an exceedingly popular topic for journalists such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (2002), who contends that “Fundamental issues are at stake, and the parties are as far apart on those issues as they ever have been”; Washington Post commentator George F. Will (2004), who notes that “Never [has American] politics been more European, meaning organized around ideologically homogeneous parties”; and Ronald Brownstein (2007), who, in his book The Second Civil War, contends that “From Congress and the White House through the grassroots, the parties today are becoming less diverse, more ideologically homogeneous, and less inclined to pursue reasonable agreements” (2007, 11). Focusing on polarization has been no less fashionable among political scientists, who have produced a plethora of research showing a substantial and widening policy gap between the parties’ leaders, elected officials, and mass coalitions (Rohde 1991; Abramowitz and Saunders 1998, 2005; Hetherington 2001; Stonecash et al. 2003; Jacobson 2005; McCarty et al. 2006; Sinclair 2006; Black and Black 2007). Moreover, scholars have shown that this fissure is expanding not just on newer issues or a particular issue agenda but in a host of policy domains—from cultural and lifestyle issues to race and to economic and social welfare issues (Poole and Rosenthal 1997; Layman and Carsey 2002; Layman et al. 2006; Brewer and Stonecash 2007).

Accompanying, and perhaps flowing from, the growing ideological divergence of the two major parties have been important and potentially negative changes in the style of American politics. Political rhetoric has become increasingly strident and personal not only in discussions on

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