Polarization is not just for Congress

When last October’s political stand-off led to the failure of our federal government to function, we learned how deep the trenches dividing our Democrats and Republicans in Congress ran.  Boris Shor wrote in a January 14th post on The Monkey Cage, a Washington Post political science blog, that our individual state legislatures also face a polarization problem – half of them even more so than Congress.

Below is the graph that Shor, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, and Nolan McCarty of Princeton University created from their research on ideological differences between parties in each state legislature.  They define “polarization” as:

the average ideological distance between the median Democrat and Republican in the state legislature.

The larger numbers (to the right of the graph) show greater ideological polarization, and the dashed vertical line indicates the polarization level of Congress.

Average legislative polarization in both chambers, 1996-2013
Boris Shor and Nolan McCarty

I’m not sure if their results surprise me or not, but they do concern me.  On the one hand, since Congress falls in the middle of this state polarization range, perhaps our representatives there really are representing and trying to make sense of our divergent points of view.  On the other hand, if half of our states can’t even find a middle ground in their own territory, how do we move forward as a whole country?

Please contribute your thoughts on how this is playing out in your area and/or on the national front, and how you think we can try to avoid another standstill in the future!

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