From Many Divides, One? The Polarization and Nationalization of American State Party Platforms, 1918-2017
52 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2021 Last revised: 13 Jan 2022
Date Written: January 12, 2022
Many contend that U.S. state parties are increasingly polarized and nationalized, meaning that they have adopted divergent positions matching their national counterparts’. Such trends reflect a transformation of America’s historically decentralized party system. Yet, the precise timing of these related trends—as well as the mechanisms underpinning them—remain unclear. We assess these dynamics using a novel data set of 1,783 state party platforms between 1918 and 2017. Applying tools from automated and manual content analysis, we document a dramatic divergence in the topics emphasized by Democrats and Republicans starting in the mid-1990s, just as congressional speech polarized. During this period, cross-state differences in each party’s agenda decreased and regional/sectoral issues became less prominent, suggesting tight connections between polarization, nationalization, and state agendas. We also find that innovative phrases increasingly debut in state (not national) platforms. Overall, the evidence undercuts claims of top-down polarization emanating from national party leaders in Washington, DC. Polarization at the state and federal levels coincided with the development of an integrated network of activists spanning multiple levels of the polity.
Keywords: US Political Parties, Polarization, Nationalization, Party Platforms, Automated Content Analysis, Natural Language Processing
JEL Classification: H00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation