The Disappearing Center

The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and American Democracy

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Disappearing Center
    Book Description:

    Renowned political scientist Alan I. Abramowitz presents a groundbreaking argument that the most important divide in American politics is not between left and right but rather between citizens who are politically engaged and those who are not. It is the engaged members of the public, he argues, who most closely reflect the ideals of democratic citizenship-but this is also the group that is most polarized. Polarization at the highest levels of government, therefore, is not a sign of elites' disconnection from the public but rather of their responsiveness to the more politically engaged parts of it. Though polarization is often assumed to be detrimental to democracy, Abramowitz concludes that by presenting voters with clear choices, polarization can serve to increase the public's interest and participation in politics and strengthen electoral accountability.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16288-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Polarization in the Age of Obama
    (pp. 1-14)

    On november 2, 2004, americans went to the polls after one of the most divisive election campaigns in modern history. Just more than three years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, had united the country and earned President George W. Bush an approval rating of close to 90 percent, the nation found itself deeply divided over such issues as abortion, gay marriage, and above all, the president’s conduct of the war in Iraq. Public opinion polls showed that the electorate was almost evenly split between those who strongly supported the president and his policies and those who strongly...

  5. 2 The Engaged Public
    (pp. 15-33)

    Students of public opinion often describe ordinary Americans as uninterested in politics, uninformed about political issues, and uninvolved in the political process beyond occasionally voting in national elections.¹ In his seminal study “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics,” Philip Converse analyzed data from the 1956 and 1960 ANES surveys and concluded that the large majority of Americans lacked any coherent ideological perspective on politics and that many did not even have meaningful opinions on the leading issues of the day. Converse argued that the kind of ideological thinking prevalent among political leaders was confined to a tiny minority...

  6. 3 Partisan-Ideological Polarization
    (pp. 34-61)

    The ideological sophistication of the American public has been a subject of great interest to students of public opinion and voting behavior since the publication of Converse’s study “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics.” On the basis of his analysis of data from the 1956 and 1960 ANES, Converse concluded that the sort of ideological thinking common among political elites was confined to a small minority of the American public. The vast majority of ordinary voters showed little evidence of using an ideological framework to evaluate political parties or presidential candidates and very limited understanding of basic ideological...

  7. 4 Polarization and Social Groups
    (pp. 62-83)

    Following his victory in the 1932 presidential election, Franklin Delano Roosevelt forged an electoral coalition that dominated American politics for the next thirty-six years. Between 1933 and 1969, the Democratic Party controlled the presidency for twenty-eight years and both chambers of Congress for thirty-two years. During these years Democrats also controlled a majority of the nation’s governorships and state legislative chambers along with most other state and local elected offices.¹

    Democrats dominated American politics during these years because they enjoyed the support of a large majority of American voters, as the authors ofThe American Voterdiscovered when they undertook...

  8. 5 Polarization and Elections
    (pp. 84-110)

    Growing partisan-ideological polarization has had important consequences for almost every aspect of the electoral process in the United States. It has affected voter turnout and the composition of the electorate, party loyalty and defection, the prevalence of ticket splitting, competition in presidential and congressional elections, the campaign strategies of politicians, and competition in primary elections. In this chapter I examine these changes and explain why, as a result of increasing partisan-ideological polarization, an electoral process characterized by candidate-centered campaigns aimed primarily at persuading swing voters has been transformed into one characterized by party-centered campaigns aimed primarily at mobilizing core party...

  9. 6 Polarization in a Changing Electorate
    (pp. 111-138)

    In 2008, for the first time since 1952, neither the incumbent president nor the incumbent vice president was a candidate for the presidency. And for the first time in twenty-four years, the United States did not have a presidential candidate named Bush or Clinton on the ballot. The Democratic and Republican candidates for president, Barack Obama and John McCain, promised to campaign in states that had not supported their party in recent presidential elections and to reach out to voters who have traditionally supported the opposing party.¹ And both Obama and McCain repeatedly emphasized their desire to reach across the...

  10. 7 Polarization and Representation
    (pp. 139-157)

    Today’s U.S. congress is a very different body from the Congress of the 1960s and 1970s. One of the most important changes, because it has affected almost every aspect of the way Congress works, has been the rise of partisan-ideological polarization. Over the past three decades, ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives have increased dramatically.¹ As recently as the 1970s, both chambers had large numbers of moderate-to-conservative Democrats and moderate-to-liberal Republicans. Moreover, conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans held key leadership positions in the House and Senate, serving as chairs or ranking minority members...

  11. 8 Polarization and Democratic Governance
    (pp. 158-172)

    American politics has changed dramatically in the past half century. African Americans have secured the right to vote that was first guaranteed in the Fifteenth Amendment and now turn out at a rate equal to that of white Americans. Hispanics have grown from a tiny sliver of the electorate into a large and rapidly expanding voting bloc. Educational attainment has increased steadily. And the two-party system has undergone an ideological realignment. The Democratic and Republican parties today, although they remain broad-based coalitions, have much clearer ideological identities than in the past. Liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, who once exercised considerable...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 173-186)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 187-194)