Polarizing Currents within Purple America

29 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2018 Last revised: 30 Aug 2018

See all articles by Sam Peltzman

Sam Peltzman

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: August 20, 2018


The ideology of average Americans has changed little since the 1970s. Then as now around 30 percent identify liberal or conservative and 40 percent are moderates. In contrast to this stable “purple” distribution political parties have become more polarized into “red” and “blue” ideological camps with much less overlap than in the past. This paper contributes to the literature that seeks to reconcile these divergent trends by examining changes in the policy preferences within ideological categories. I analyze answers to a stable set of questions in the General Social Survey. The key finding is that liberals and conservatives have mainly moved further apart on a wide variety of policy issues. The divergence is substantial quantitatively and in its plausible political impact: intra party moderation has become increasingly unlikely.

Keywords: political polarization, political ideology, economic policy, social policy

JEL Classification: D72, D78

Suggested Citation

Peltzman, Sam, Polarizing Currents within Purple America (August 20, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3235867 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3235867

Sam Peltzman (Contact Author)

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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