Four Perspectives on Elite Polarization in Congress Since 1970



Political polarization may well be one of the most dangerous forces in our government, and as a country, the U.S. is experiencing exceptional levels of polarization. So, we endeavored to explore, what has been the trajectory of elite polarization in American politics since the 1970s, and what does that indicate about our current situation? We hypothesize from the literature that there would be low legislative productivity and high inflation in periods of heightened polarization and vice versa for low polarization. This is due to the inability of legislators to cooperate to find solutions that will work for the American people in polarized times. To answer our question, we consider elite polarization in Congress from four perspectives: aggregate polarization, Congressional cooperation, the state of the economy, and overall legislative effectiveness. The aggregate polarization and Congressional cooperation dimensions provide a model to identify ideological differences and levels of bipartisan legislative cooperation, respectively, and act as a benchmark to identify how polarized Congress was at any given time. In contrast, the overall effectiveness and state of the economy analyses will provide an external measure to determine effects. The analyses suggest that polarization has broadly increased since 1970, with few exceptions, regardless of the state of the economy, indicating that economics is not a strong predictor of polarization, nor is polarization a strong predictor of economics. Furthermore, although not definitive, predictive analysis suggests that polarization will only increase.

Keywords: Polarization, Legislative Effectiveness, Inflation, Congressional Representation, Time Series Analysis






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