This week's readings focus on issues of polarization in the political process, specifically its origins and impacts on policymaking. I'm interested in thinking more about the origins and voters' response to polarization.
Ornstein and Mann discuss the origins of modern polarization in 1960s societal shifts and the 1978 election, focusing on Newt Gingrich's strategy to destroy America's trust in Congress and unite Republicans in refusing to work with Democrats (33). I wonder how this strategy lines up with Burstein's argument that issue salience impacts voters' responsiveness, and that: "citizens who care about an issue are especially likely to take elected officials' actions on that issue into account on election day" (30). It seems that Gingrich's strategy was to keep voter attention away from policy issues and focus it on dysfunction within the institution of Congress.
Arceneaux and Nicholson provide an analysis of the political attitudes of people who support the Tea Party, which is a modern polarizing force in Congress. The Tea Party may also be seen as the manifestation of Gingrich's ultimate goal - voters became so dissatisfied with Congress that many new Tea Party representatives were elected in 2010 with the explicit goal of refusing to compromise. At the same time, the Tea Party is very issue focused, with strong and often uncompromising views on social issues and government aid. With the 2012 elections, voters did seem to be responding to these salient policy issues by removing many newly elected Tea Party officials and electing many lifetime bureaucrats to office. This election though did not necessarily reduce the level of polarization in Congress, which makes me wonder why, as McCarty expresses, that the polarization of elected officials is much greater than the polarization of the electorate (247).
If the general population elects politicians, why is it that officials do not truly represent those who elected them? McCarty provides many factors that he argues have polarized elected officials over time: southern realignment, increased homogeneity in the parties, redistricting, primary elections, the changing media coverage of the political process and rising income inequality in the U.S. (228-231). But I'm not sure this completely answers my question. Why is it that voters elect representatives who do not reflect voter perspectives? Why do voters accept such polarized candidates as the new normal?