Political Polarization: A Dispatch from the Scholarly Front Lines

The Brookings Institution, in collaboration with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, set out understand the causes and consequences of polarizion in America’s body politic. In March 2006, Brookings’s Governance Studies Program hosted a conference in which scholars presented their papers. These papers are gathered in the first of two conference volumes—Red and Blue Nation? Characteristics and Causes of America’s Polarized Politics, edited by Red and Blue Nation? Project co-directors Pietro S. Nivola, Brookings vice president and director of Governance Studies, and David W. Brady, deputy director and senior fellow at Hoover. The project was made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. A second volume, to be published in November 2007, will explore the electoral, institutional and social remedies for political polarization.

This special edition of the Issues in Governance Studies papers summarizes the major contributions to the first volume. The topics addressed include an exploration of whether polarization afflicts only the members of the political classes or whether it also divides ordinary voters; whether today’s polarization is significant relative to other periods in history; whether religion, mass media and electoral factors such as gerrymandering are engines of polarization; and, finally, the degree to which, if at all, polarization lessens the quality of political discourse or weakens the policymaking process.