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A n E c o n o m i c P e r s p e c t i v e
campaigns greatly favors
would, after all, need to vote for
incumbents (with the ratio of
such reforms).
average incumbentto-challenger
financing nw exceeding 10-to-1).
This tends to make district
relatively safe for the party that
controls the seat, thereby
increasing the importance of
primaries.
Of course, in addition to these
longterm structural factors,
shorter-term economic and social
fluctuationsalso have pronounced
effects. n particular, significant
economic dwnturns — whether the
Great Depression of the 1930s or
the Great Recession of the past
several years — increase political
polarization.
No
Av
Everyday
Environmen
Law, Nature, and Individual
Behavior Jason J. Czarnezki
U.S. participation in the war brought
a degree of political unity at home,
largely because U.S. action was
precipitated by the attack on Pearl
Harbor. Under conditions of less
clear motivation for U.S. military
action abroad — such as in the war
in Vietnam — the result has not
been political unity, but
T
here is a widening gulf
between the two political parties
that is paralyz-ing sensible policy
action in Washington. This
inceasing polarization — the
disappearance of moderates —
has been taking place for four
decades. Th rise of the Tea Party
movement is only the most recent
vehicle that has continued a
40-year trend.
By Robert N.
Stavins
Polarized Politics
Paralyze Policy
Why has party polarization
increased so dramatically in the
Congress over the past four
decades? Thee structural factors
stand out.
These thee factors operate mainly primary challenges, Republican
through the replacement of membersmembers shift rightward and
of Congress, whether due to death, Democratic members shift leftward.
retirement, or challenges from within Senator John McCain (R-Arizona)
the party — that is, the ideological evolved from being a moderate at the
shifts that cause increasing
time of his 2008 presidential run to
polarization largely occur when new being a solid conservative in 2010, in
members are elected from either
response to a primary challenge from
party, although a disproportionate a Tea Party candidate.
share of polarization has been due to
the rightward shift of new
Republicans.
To a lesser degree, polarization
has also taken place through the
adaptation of sitting members of
Congress as they behave more
ideologically once in office. uch
political conversions are due to the
same pressures noted above: in
order to discourage or survive
C
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c
in
w
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e
T
e
po
fo
Faced with the seemingly and its consequences, is di erence? “Yes, there is!”
overwhelming prospect
there anything that a
says Jason Czarnezki, in
of global climate change person can do to make a his new book, Everyday
First, there is the increasing
importance of the primary system,
a consequence of the
“democratization” of the
nomination process that took flight
i the 1970s. A small share of the
electorate vote in primaries,
namely those with the strongest
political preferences — the most
conservative Republicans and the
most liberal Democrats. Thi
self-selection greatly favors
candidates from the extremes.
I
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:
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7
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1
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5
7
6
1
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4
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It is difcult to
be optimistic
about the
prognosis for
American
politics
divisiveness and
polarization. The
ultimat impacts on
domestic politics of the
wars in Afghanistan
and Iraq may hinge on
whether they are
perceived to be
patriotic responses to
a
E
p
n
A
E
c
a
$
2
9
.
9
5
Second, decades of redistricting If the increasing polarization of the
— a state prerogative guaranteed byCongress is due to these factors,
the Constitution — has produced
then it is difficult to be optimistic
more and more districts that are
about t prognosis in the near term for
dominated by either Republican or American politics, because it is
Democratic voters. This inceases theunlikely that any of these factors will
importance of primary elections,
soon reverse course.
which is where the key choices
The two paties are not about to
among candidates are now made in abandon the primary system to
many congressional districts.
return to smoke filled back ooms.
Because of this, polarization has
Likewise, state legislatures are
proceeded at a much more rapid
not willing to abandon their power
pace in the House than the Senate. to redistrict (although California’s
experiment with an independent
citizens commission may provide
hope). And public fnancing of
campaigns and other measures
that would reduce the advantages
of incumbency remain generally
unpopular (among incumbents,
who
Thid, the increasing cost of
electoral
P
a
g
e
1
8
❧
THE
ENVIRONMENT
AL FORUM
J
S
p
H
L
h
Robert N. Stavins is the Albert Pratt Professor
of Business and Government at the John F.
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard
University, and Director of the Harvard
Environmental Economics Program. He can be
reached at [email protected]
Copyright © 2011, Environmental Law Institute®®, Washington, D.C.
www.eli.org. Reprinted by permission from The Environmental Forum,
Nov./Dec. 2011
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