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Jacobson: Partisan polarization in national politics

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Jacobson. 2000. Partisan polarization in national politics: The electoral connection. In Polarized politics: Congress and the President in a Partisan Era.

Key Point

The polarization of the two Congressional parties has been matched by a similar polarization of the electorate.


  • Realignment in the South is a major part of the story, but the electorate has become more polarized in the rest of the country as well.
  • Split ticket voting has declined since the 1970s, while party loyalty has increased.
  • It is not clear whether an increasingly coherent electorate has followed the cues of politicians (who exhibited partisan behavior before it showed up in the voting results) or whether the politicians simply anticipated voter preferences and were constrained by that anticipation. In short, which is the chicken and which is the egg? (There is some evidence that elites change first, but it still isn't clear whether they acted autonomously or simply foresaw the shift in the electorate.)
  • Politicians are more extreme than voters.
  • Increasing party coherence, electoral polarization, and partisan politics may have had the ironic effect of making divided government more popular (because we don't want either of the extremist parties to have total control, so we like divided government).