FLORIDA, May 16, 2013 — This is a very polarized time in American politics. Why have moderate policies and politicians have become so maligned? It has been said that hardline politics are more prevalent on the right than on the left. Is this actually the case?
Over the last several years, it seems that many on both ends of the political spectrum have become attracted to extreme ideologies. Might there be an underlying reason for this? Has the popularity of cable news and talk radio increased political polarization? Or, are these the result of an already polarized electorate?
Perhaps most importantly, does emotion or reason play a greater role on America’s political scene?
Larry Sabato is one of our country’s most respected political analysts. The director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, his “crystal ball” — a remarkably efficient method of monitoring election trends and predicting results — has become something of pop-culture phenomena.
In this first part of our discussion about the state of America’s body politic, he answers the questions listed above.
Joseph F. Cotto: This is a very polarized time in American politics. Why do you think that moderate policies and politicians have become so maligned?
Dr. Larry Sabato: Moderates aren’t maligned so much as ignored by the activists in both parties. For better or worse, we’ve developed a conservative Republican party and a liberal Democratic party. The good part of it is that voters have a clear choice. The bad part is that it is increasingly difficult to bridge the gap and forge compromises. And our system of divided government requires compromise because only rarely, in the modern day, does one party have enough strength across the board to get its way without some help from the other party.
Cotto: It has been said that hardline politics are more prevalent on the right than on the left. Do you agree with this idea?
Dr. Sabato: Not really. I’m fortunate to have good contacts across the ideological spectrum in both parties. A substantial majority are reasonable people who are patriotic and well informed. But a minority on both the right and left seem hell-bent on having it their own way, refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of any arguments made by the other side.
Cotto: Over the last several years, it seems that many on both ends of the political spectrum have become attracted to extreme ideologies. In your opinion, is there an underlying reason for this?
Dr. Sabato: Difficult economic times and unpopular wars encourage this, as they have throughout American history. Both conditions have been present in recent years. If we have a long stretch of peace and prosperity sometime in the future, I suspect things will calm down.
Cotto: Has the popularity of cable news and talk radio increased political polarization? Or, are these the result of an already polarized electorate?
Dr. Sabato: Radio and TV news is a money-making business, so there’s no doubt polarization is the chicken and ideological news is the follow-up egg. Ideologically leaning news reinforces polarization, of course, but I don’t see it as the cause.
Cotto: In your opinion, does emotion or reason play a greater role on America’s political scene?
Dr. Sabato: Both reason and emotion are so baked into our political and governmental cake I have a hard time separating the two. As a fellow who has been a part of the University of Virginia for 43 years, I tend to quote Jefferson: “For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” I’ll pick rationality every time—and emotionally shout down anyone who doesn’t agree. I’m kidding.
Far-left? Far-right? Get real: Read more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto
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