A key take away from this week's readings is that the two parties are becoming more and more polarized due largely to conservatives becoming more conservative. As Mann and Ornstein cite, "More than 70 percent of Republicans in the electorate identify themselves as conservatives or very conservative, while only 40 percent of rank-and-file Democrats call themselves liberal or very liberal (p.56)." These authors outline Newt Gingrich's role in deepening the wedge of polarization. Arceneaux and Nicholson examine the movement's face, the Tea Party, arguing that while it is actually more heterogeneous than presumed, it is not made up of working poor Americans. McCarty's analysis emphasizes the numerous negative effects of polarization. Each of these authors contributes to the understanding of why polarization has increased and how it affects policymaking.
It seems that Newt Gingrich and some of his Republican colleagues did exactly what Friedeman discussed, reinforcing excessive fears in the citizenry when it was in his own interest (Managing Fear). According to Mann and Ornstein, he sought to destroy Congress by intensifying public hatred and distrust in the institution in order to scare them into voting for Republican candidates.
The polarization Gingrich helped spark has only intensified in the post-Citizens United paradigm of campaign financing through super PACs. Tea Partiers, according to Arceneaux and Nicholson, are more likely to be white, male, Republican, conservative, and have higher income and education levels than the general population. In terms of sheer demographics, this is becoming a more and more irrelevant group as people of color will soon usurp whites and women have overtaken men in educational attainment. However, to the extent that this group funds conservative candidates, they will remain influential in strengthening the GOP and its continued path of polarization.
If McCarty is to be believed, polarization results in more extreme policy outcomes, vote buying/pork barrel, and an increase in executive and judicial power due to legislative gridlock. How then can average citizens encourage compromise and problem solving among their elected officials? Mann and Ornstein assert that it is now "better [for parties] to have an issue than a bill" (p. 51). Does this make it easier for public opinion to play a role as voters are more likely to be knowledgeable about general issues than particular bills, or is it a way to deflect the public's interest in the gridlocked work of Congress? Also, why aren't Democrats becoming more liberal?