Polarization Lost: Exploring the Decline of Ideological Voting after the Gilded Age
52 Pages Posted: 14 Jan 2015
Date Written: January 12, 2015
We examine the decline in congressional polarization that occurred during the 1920s, as party differences narrowed relative to the high levels of the turn of the twentieth century – a period that has, until recently, been regarded as the high-water-mark of partisan polarization in American politics. While our results are preliminary, we note two sets of findings. First, procedures may have contributed to depolarization, in that a decline in agenda control and procedural dominance by the majority party in the House seems to have been a significant factor associated with depolarization. That is, as highly polarized roll calls declined and the proportion of less polarized substantive roll calls increased, overall levels of polarization in the House declined. Second, both qualitative and roll call evidence suggests that agricultural and tariff policies were key early areas of interparty cooperation, providing important opportunities for cross-party and cross-regional coalitions (like the Farm Bloc and the Progressive Coalition) to form before the Conservative Coalition emerged in the late-1930s.
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