Left and Right

America’s Polarization Has Nothing To Do With Ideology

Conservative author George Hawley on why the Left/Right Red/Blue Alt-Right/Antifa tribal civil war is a smokescreen. Economics and social class aren’t the main issues either. Americans largely agree on those issues. My advice to ATS supporters and readers is to avoid being distracted by these “issues,” and keep your eyes on the prize. It is the system that is our enemy, and it is the largely non-ideological but anti-establishment “radical center” we need to reach at this point.

By George Hawley

The American Conservative

Although a seemingly simple concept, the issue of polarization has long frustrated political scientists. A superficial examination of the American political scene suggests an intensely polarized electorate, divided along partisan and ideological lines. Watching cable news, we see competing camps that have few points of agreement, with anger the dominant emotion. Yet a dive into public opinion on questions of policy tells a different story.

In 2004, Stanford University political science professor Morris Fiorina and his colleagues persuasively argued that Americans are not bitterly divided on the most contentious policy questions, that in fact Americans lack true ideological convictions. Their argument today remains as sound as ever.

The claim that most of us have a coherent bundle of ideological constraints that inform our policy preferences and voting choices has little empirical support. The number of consistent liberals and conservatives in the electorate remains very small. The Bible-thumping, pro-war, free-market purist is a rare creature. So is the gun-grabbing, abortion-loving, socialist atheist. Perfect conservative and liberal stereotypes are hard to find in the real world.

Especially on economic issues, Americans exhibit a remarkable consensus, for better or for worse. Across the partisan divide, most people endorse a form of welfare capitalism—we just disagree on the minutia of tax policy, regulation, and the strength of the social safety net.


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