Saturday, January 25, 2014

How Race and Religion have Polarized American Voters

The rise of polarized politics in Washington is a direct result of profound changes that have taken place in American society and culture over several decades. These changes include a dramatic increase in racial and ethnic diversity and a deepening divide over religion and moral values. As a result of these societal and cultural shifts, the electoral coalitions supporting the two major parties have become increasingly distinctive. Democratic and Republican voters today are far more divided by race, religious beliefs, ideological orientations and policy preferences than in the past.

Contrary to the views of those who see polarization as almost entirely an elite phenomenon, the deep divide between the parties in Washington and in many state capitols is largely due to the fact that Democratic and Republican elected officials represent electoral coalitions that differ sharply in their social characteristics and political orientations.  The roots of polarization are in our changing society—and above all the growing racial and ethnic diversity of the American population.

Due to large-scale immigration from Latin America and Asia and higher fertility rates among nonwhites, the racial and ethnic makeup of the American population has undergone a major transformation since the 1960s. Nonwhites comprise a growing share of the overall population and of eligible voters. This demographic shift has had very different effects on the two major parties, however.

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