The Partisan Divide

April 30, 2004 – Volume 14, Issue 16
Are politics more polarized than ever? By Alan Greenblatt


Republicans celebrate the decision to halt the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election dispute between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore.  (Getty Images)  
Republicans celebrate the decision to halt the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election dispute between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore. (Getty Images)

If political ads sound unusually harsh this campaign season, it may be because the major parties are highlighting their differences in hopes of tipping an evenly divided electorate their way. Over the past couple of decades, elected officials and party leaders have become more openly partisan, with greater divisions between the parties across the entire range of political issues, including taxation and government spending, foreign policy and cultural issues. As the politicians present completely opposing views to the public, so-called swing voters are becoming an endangered species. Voters are either becoming more closely aligned with one party or the other, or dropping out of the political process altogether. If this year's presidential race remains as close as polls indicate, it will be the second squeaker in a row — and a further indication that there is no clear majority of political opinion in a divided country.

Go to top


Walk into any well-stocked bookstore and it would be hard to miss the strident rhetoric that has become a hallmark of American politics. From the left, recent titles include Worse Than Watergate; The Bush-Hater's Handbook; The I Hate Republicans Reader and what might be called the lies trilogy: The Lies of George W. Bush; Big Lies and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.

From the right, titles include: Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right; Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got it Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First and Bush Country: How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane.

Indeed, some contemporary media outlets specifically target partisan markets, often deliberately cranking up the political rancor.

“You can be plugged into the news all day long and never hear a liberal thought unless it's something responded to very quickly,” says Mike Franc, vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation. To combat what has been seen as a conservative bias on talk radio, Air America, a new radio network featuring hosts with an avowedly liberal bias, began broadcasting in several major cities on March 31.

However, even with today's media balkanization, Americans are not more divided than they have ever been: The civil rights and Vietnam eras opened larger wounds. But Americans are more perfectly sorted politically than they have been in living memory.

Partisan crowds keep a tense vigil at the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2000, during oral arguments in the election dispute between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore. The bitter partisan feelings that resulted from the nearly tied election have only intensified since then, leaving the nation with deep political divisions as it faces another presidential election. (Getty Images)  
Partisan crowds keep a tense vigil at the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2000, during oral arguments in the election dispute between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore. The bitter partisan feelings that resulted from the nearly tied election have only intensified since then, leaving the nation with deep political divisions as it faces another presidential election. (Getty Images)

“I like to say that we're evenly divided, not deeply divided,” says Karlyn Bowman, a polling expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

President Bush is widely viewed as having failed in his stated mission of “changing the tone in Washington.” Instead of being a “healer,” he has become a polarizing figure, loved or hated by seemingly equal numbers of people.

The two major parties in general have found more success in highlighting their differences than in working toward consensus, but some of the rancor may have more to do with power. Some conservatives chalk up Democratic anger toward Bush to the fact that Republicans, for the first time in 50 years, control both houses of Congress and the White House.

After searching for decades for someone who could lead them out of the political wilderness, Republicans in the mid-1990s followed the program of Georgia Rep. Newt Gingrich, who instructed a generation of GOP candidates to describe Democrats in terms such as “sick” and “corrupt.”

The strategy worked. Republicans gained majorities in both chambers, and Gingrich, for a time, was Speaker of the House, until his attacks on President Bill Clinton backfired in the 1998 elections. Still, Gingrich's tactics have been widely adopted not only in Congress — by today's minority Democrats as well as Republicans — but also in state legislatures.

Political power in the states is also narrowly divided now, having shifted dramatically in 2002, after Democrats lost their half-century-long control over the statehouses. Republicans now enjoy a slight advantage in the number of state legislative seats they hold.

The switch was in part the result of a 20-year grass-roots campaign led by conservative Republicans bent on eliminating moderates and inter-party cooperation, both in Washington and in statehouses. “We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals — and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship,” said GOP strategist and one-time Gingrich adviser Grover Norquist, who equates bipartisan behavior by Republicans as betrayal on a par with “date rape.” 1

Norquist and other fiscal conservatives are teaming up with social conservatives across the country to knock off moderates like prominent centrist Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who on April 27 narrowly survived a challenge from staunchly conservative Rep. Patrick J. Toomey in Pennsylvania's GOP primary. Bush had supported Specter, but anti-tax and Christian Republicans supported Toomey, claiming Specter was too liberal on abortion and government spending.


Because the voting public is divided right down the middle, politicians both in state capitals and in Washington press for any partisan advantage they can find, playing up the issues that help divide and reinforce their coalitions.

“This country has become polarized in a way that many people have never seen it before,” says Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. “For a centrist, you have as many nightmares as you can possibly have because you can't get people together, and they don't want to get together on issues.”

That is one reason why, even after a cataclysmic, unifying event such as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, politics today have such a hard, partisan edge. Moreover, parties are sorting themselves out ideologically in ways they never have before.

There has always been disagreement between Republicans and Democrats on some issues, but it was possible to arrive at consensus on others. Once there was considerable mixing and matching within the parties. Plenty of populist Democrats who were liberal on labor issues, for example, opposed abortion, while many anti-tax Republicans supported abortion rights. Both parties had their deficit hawks and their pro-defense members.

Today, elected officials from the major parties can't seem to agree about anything, whether it's gay marriage, tax cuts or the war in Iraq. “The parties are becoming more ideologically polarized on all issues — race, the economy, foreign policy,” says Geoffrey Layman, a Vanderbilt University political scientist. “The parties are so divided, there's very little to like from the other side if you're a hardcore Republican or Democrat.”

The 2000 election resulted in a near-tie, with Democrat Al Gore winning more popular votes, and Bush barely winning a majority in the Electoral College after the Florida recount dispute went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. 2 The bitter partisan feelings that resulted from that fight have only intensified since then, despite a brief moment of bipartisan comity following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Republicans and Democrats have been bitterly divided before, during the Civil War, the '60s, and during Watergate. But no presidential candidate has won a majority of the popular presidential vote since 1988.

In an era of political parity, party leaders fight for every vote they can by magnifying every difference they have with the other side. In the process, centrist voters have come to feel disenchanted and unrepresented, while most others have been transformed into strong supporters of either one party or the other.

“That's why it's so bitter — because the stakes are so high now,” says Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “It matters a huge amount which party is in power. It may have mattered less 20 years ago, because of the greater ideological diversity within each party.”

Party squabbles have even contaminated foreign policy, where tradition has always dictated that partisanship stopped at the water's edge. For example, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, known as the 9/11 Commission, has won praise for its bipartisan investigation into intelligence failures. But its hearings have become highly partisan affairs, with Bush and Clinton administration figures pointing fingers at one another for failures to protect the country against al Qaeda.

Average voters, taking their signals from elected officials and party leaders, also have grown farther apart. “We are used to hearing ordinary Americans described as centrist, pragmatic and non-ideological. Well, it just isn't so [anymore],” Mann says. With today's strong partisanship and ideological polarization, “There is no longer a huge gulf between the activists and the broad public.”

Of course, not all voters are hardcore party loyalists, says Morris Fiorina, a Stanford University political scientist who feels the notion of culture wars and “two Americas” — Republican red states and Democratic blue ones — is overblown.


“It's a good theme for the media — the conflict theme plays better than a consensus theme,” he says. “The parties are clearly farther apart, but there's no indication that the population as a whole is more divided than it was 30 years ago.”

Still, even if voters are not as ideologically polarized as the party leaders, the split between the parties leaves most voters in the position of either loving or hating the current occupant of the White House, regardless of his party. “Clinton mobilized the right, Bush mobilized the left,” says William Schneider, a political analyst with the American Enterprise Institute and CNN. “[Ronald] Reagan never had that impact.”

A March USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found that Democrats supported presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., by 95-3 percent, while Republicans supported Bush by an identical margin. 3 That complete lack of bipartisan support for presidential candidates is also a new development.

In addition, neither party has been able to win a firm majority of support from voters. Although Republicans have enjoyed a great deal of success over the last decade, the GOP hasn't won the popular vote for president since 1988, and Democrats remain competitive at other levels.

Moreover, the polarization process is becoming institutionalized. Political gerrymandering by increasingly sophisticated redistricting experts and software is giving one party or the other a virtual lock on nearly every seat. 4

“That means the representative pays a lot more attention to the strong partisan backers and appeals to them instead of playing to the center,” says former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, D-Ind., vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission.

In a sense, gerrymandering merely exacerbates a larger tendency among Americans. Demographers nowadays talk about “the big sort,” in which people move to live among like-minded individuals with similar lifestyles. Political analyst Charlie Cook notes that Republicans dominate rural districts, Democrats control urban districts and the suburbs are split. In 2002, he quips, “Democrats got killed in every district that didn't have a Starbucks.”

Meanwhile, says James G. Gimpel, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, “The more moderate voters are dropping out of the electorate, leaving only the most intensely partisan people.”

As politicians and observers seek to understand the increasingly partisan divide, here are some of the questions they're debating:

Are today's congressional Republicans more partisan than the Democrats were when they held power?

In 2003, Congress was more polarized than at any other time during the five decades that Congressional Quarterly has been analyzing “party unity” votes (votes in which a majority of one party voted against a majority of the other). 5 At a news conference on Dec. 9, 2003, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, S.D., called it “the single most partisan session of Congress that I participated in.”

Certainly the GOP majorities on the Hill have used their power to ram through legislation over the objections of Democrats, especially in the House. The GOP kept minority members from participating in major conference committees, which draft the final versions of bills. And last November, House Republican leaders held open a floor vote on a Medicare bill for three hours — much longer than the normal 17 minutes — in the middle of the night so they could twist arms for passage.

In another notable instance last year, House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., called the Capitol police to break up a meeting of committee Democrats. (Thomas later apologized.)

But if Republicans have unabashedly asserted their power, did they do more than the Democrats did when they ran both Congress and the White House?

Of course not, says Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill. Being in the minority “is no fun,” he says, regardless of which party is in power. “The worst position to be in around here is the minority. You never get to set the agenda, and you're always subject to the will of the majority.”

But David R. Obey, a 17-term Democrat from Wisconsin, says the abuse of power today “is far more pernicious than in the past.”

Standing in the House Speaker's Lobby under a portrait of Texan Jim Wright, a highly partisan Democratic Speaker in the 1980s, Obey concedes that Democrats sometimes abused their power. But the Republicans are much worse, he says.

“Nine times out of 10 — and that's no exaggeration — they will not allow us to present our preferred alternatives,” he says. “That happened occasionally under Jim Wright. It happens almost universally under these guys.”

Surprisingly, many members and outside observers agree that Congress is more partisan under GOP control, but they disagree on whether the Republicans are at fault.

Hamilton, now director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, says, without doubt “excessive partisanship has made the congressional environment less welcoming and less civil, and makes it more difficult to get the work done.” But, he says, given the general breakdown in civility and the compressed congressional workweek, during which members often spend fewer than 60 hours in Washington, whichever party were currently in power might look bad.

Others point out that the Republican rise to power has coincided with the increased polarization of the two parties. The GOP won its congressional majorities as a result of the partisan realignment in the South following the civil and voting rights movements of the mid-1960s. Seats once held by conservative Democrats have almost all been taken over by Republicans. Meanwhile, the GOP's influence declined in its more moderate “Eastern Establishment” base in the Northeast. As a result, there are fewer conservative Democrats or moderate or liberal Republicans.

“The Republicans are — and probably throughout their history have been — more homogenous and cohesive than the Democrats,” says Barbara Sinclair, a political scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Republicans can manage some things that Democrats could never manage to do.”

Once Republicans, even when they were in the minority, could find support for their proposals among conservative Southern Democrats and form a working majority called the “conservative coalition.” Today, there's seldom reason for the GOP — which has held narrow majorities throughout its decade in power — to try to reach out to Democrats.

“The Republicans have had to be cohesive because they've had a very small margin for error,” says former Rep. Robert S. Walker, R-Pa. “There have been so few Democrats willing to cross over and support their bills.”


Moreover, thanks to redistricting, most Republicans and Democrats are in safe, partisan districts in which they only have to worry about answering to their own party's supporters.

“Yes, things are worse,” concludes Brookings' Mann, largely because the parties today are so much more “ideologically polarized, unified and balanced in their strength.”

Is the center disappearing from American politics?

If the two major parties today are more polarized than at any time in recent memory, has the general populace become polarized as well? “There's still a radical center in American politics that is often forgotten,” says Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the Government Reform Committee. “The middle is where you win elections.”

The argument that many, if not most, U.S. voters are moderate and centrist has long been a truism. But many people are beginning to doubt its veracity today.

Marc J. Hetherington, a government professor at Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine, believes Americans today are more likely to view “one party positively and one negatively,” and “less likely to feel neutral toward either party.” They are also better able to list what they like and dislike about the political parties than 20 to 30 years ago, he says. 6

Hetherington does not believe the public is as partisan as elected officials. Most people like to think of themselves as moderate, and most Americans don't pay all that much attention to politics, he points out. But in recent years, there has been more partisan “sorting,” he says. People may still think of themselves as ideological centrists, but they identify more strongly with one major party or the other today than they once did.

“Partisan intensity or even interest in being a partisan is at an unusually high level,” says David Hill, a Republican consultant in Texas. “For whatever reason, people today — more than in past decades — are willing to wear a party label, and those who are willing are more intense about it.”

Voters may be taking their cues from “hyperpartisan” elected officials and party leaders, Hill suggests. National Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe “knows just what to say to get the base all up in an uproar,” as does House Republican leader Tom DeLay of Texas, he says.

And political gerrymandering has made it less important for either members of Congress or state legislators to appeal to the middle, says Franc, the Heritage Foundation lobbyist. “If you're in a 60 percent Republican district,” he says, “it doesn't matter that 15 percent of your constituents are undecided.” But when politicians must appeal to a broader constituency — such as in statewide races for governor or senator — candidates will often present themselves as more moderate, Franc says, in order to appeal to centrist voters, who are more crucial in such contests.

“However shrinking, there still are some voters without firm roots in party or ideology, and they can be moved,” Mann says. “The middle is important because the parties are so balanced.”

The Pew Research Center for The People & The Press released a widely cited survey in March showing that 38 percent of registered voters are committed to Kerry, 33 percent are committed to Bush and 29 percent are swing voters open to persuasion. 7 Those numbers support other polls and registration data suggesting that the country is almost evenly split between Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Most self-described centrist commentators believe there is still a center and that it very much matters politically, because the parties are so close to parity.

“You don't win elections by appealing to Judge Moore supporters in Alabama,” says Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College and author of Marginalized in the Middle. He was referring to former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who lost his job after he installed a Ten Commandments monument in the lobby of the Alabama Judicial Building and then refused to remove it. “You win by appealing to [moderate] suburban housewives outside Cincinnati.”

Vanderbilt political scientist Layman agrees that the center “does matter,” but he says the political parties increasingly are realizing that elections may be won by “mobilizing the base rather than appealing to the center.”

Are cultural issues dividing America?

Since Bush and Gore divided up the nation's voters into nearly equal parts in the 2000 election, many have argued that they split the country along cultural and religious lines — with churchgoers and gun owners supporting Bush, and secularists and gun-control and abortion-rights advocates voting for Gore.

“The map of America after the 2000 election delineated cultural fault lines more than economic ones,” says Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist Democratic think tank. 8

Schneider, of the American Enterprise Institute, agrees that the 2000 map “was a map of cultural America” that was more about church members and gun ownership than about the economy and jobs. Cultural issues “divide voters most closely. That's what leads large numbers of populist voters — who should vote Democratic because of jobs — to vote for Bush, because they're deeply religious and patriotic.”

Layman, who has written extensively about the intersection of cultural issues and politics, notes that voters' frequency of church attendance was a greater predictor of voting preferences in 2000 than income, gender, region or any other traditional demographic variable except race. “The party platforms sent out pretty clear signals that there is a big cultural gap between the two parties,” Layman says, on issues such as abortion and gun owners' rights.

Bush himself sent strong signals about his cultural conservatism in 2000. As a candidate, he called Jesus Christ his favorite political philosopher and in office has limited stem-cell research involving fetal tissue obtained through abortion and called for a constitutional amendment excluding gays from marrying each other.

“A lot of people support Bush passionately because he's so vocal about his faith,” says John J. Pitney Jr., a government professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., “and for the same reason a lot of people are hostile to him.”

Cultural issues are especially polarizing, Pitney argues, because they leave little room for compromise. “With a tax bill or a spending bill,” he notes, “you can always find a number in between. You really can't do that with gay marriage.” In addition, both parties use cultural issues as a “wedge” to keep voters from supporting their opponents.

Some say Bush's proposed amendment banning same-sex marriages is being used as just such a wedge issue. Because Congress is unlikely to approve such an amendment this year, most pundits say, Bush proposed it this year primarily to motivate conservative voters to go to the polls. Meanwhile, voters in six states will consider constitutional amendments on gay marriage in November.

But many still question whether voters this year will choose candidates based more on their cultural stances than on government budgets and the economy. Marshall predicts that job loss and other economic issues will supplant cultural arguments this time around, and Schneider agrees that cultural issues “wash away” when the economy is a prime concern.

Cultural issues are important, says Republican consultant Hill, but they aren't everything. “There are still some economic issues that are important catalysts,” he says. “There are still ardent Republicans who are Republicans because of tax issues, and they share little or none of the social-conservative agenda.”

Clyde Wilcox, a political scientist at Georgetown University who specializes in religion and politics, says the idea of a cultural war is overstated. The activists and political elites have trouble compromising on issues like abortion, he says, but only a “really tiny portion” of the population takes extreme positions on such issues. “If we're talking about a culture 'war,' ” he says, “we're talking about a lot of non-combatants.”

Cultural issues may only be part of the mix, but they're an important part. “The cultural issues and the economic positions have aligned themselves,” says Scott Keeter, associate director of the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press. It's not a perfect divide, he says, but for the most part Republicans now embrace the conservative position on cultural issues, tax cuts and the proper role of government, while Democrats take the more liberal or progressive stance.

Go to top


Rise of Factionalism

The United States was founded without a political party system. In fact, in his 1796 farewell address to the nation, President George Washington warned “in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party.” Excessive partisanship, he wrote, leads to factionalism and power mongering contrary to the spirit of democracy. 9

Because Washington was such a popular and unifying figure, his administration passed without the creation of a party system. But historians have noted that even Washington sometimes had to suppress factionalism so that his own positions would prevail.

Other Founders paid lip service to nonpartisanship, but even during Washington's administration “polarization laid the foundation for powerful two-party politics,” note his most recent biographers. “A long ideological war had just begun.” 10

The early party factions — the Federalists and Anti-Federalists — were led and largely personified by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. “In every free and deliberating society,” Jefferson wrote, “there must, from the nature of man, be opposite parties, and violent discussions and discords; and one of these for the most part, must prevail over the other for a longer or shorter time.” 11

Hamilton and the Federalists, who included powerful bankers and industrialists in the North, favored a strong central government. Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists argued against a “monarchical” rule by the aristocracy, saying that farmers, craftsmen and shopkeepers should control their own interests without interference from the capitol. “If the Federalists had wealth, social standing and political sophistication on their side,” writes veteran political journalist Jules Witcover, “Jefferson had the raw numbers.” 12

Jefferson's party — which dominated politics throughout the first half of the 19th century — eventually morphed into today's Democratic Party. The major step came after the controversial presidential election of 1824, which was decided by the House of Representatives and led to the splitting of the party into factions. Four years later, Andrew Jackson won big calling himself the Democratic-Republican candidate, in a campaign loaded with “Old Hickory” clubs and promotional tie-ins, such as badges, plates and pitchers — lending politics some entertainment value. Jackson's anti-corporate, populist appeal made him both loved and hated.

“His blunt words and acts assumed the character of moral gestures which forced men to declare themselves, for or against,” according to Jackson biographer Marvin Meyers. 13 His vice president and successor, Martin Van Buren, had long laid the groundwork for a true party organization, reasoning that a party based more on principles than personalities would endure longer. The convention that nominated Van Buren in 1836 released an address to the public that was the forerunner of modern party platforms.

Dozens of parties — including the Whigs, Know-Nothings, Barnburners, Softshells, Hunkers and Free Soilers — emerged during the first half of the 19th century. They all enjoyed some success, but the Jefferson-Jackson Democrats became so dominant that the party eventually split into Northern and Southern factions arguing over the expansion of slavery.

In 1854, a group of Whigs, Free Soilers, abolitionists and anti-slavery Democrats met and formed the Republican Party. The name was a pointed reference to the Democratic Party's previous name, with members of the new party complaining that the Democrats had formed a “slavocracy” in thrall to Southern slaveholders.

Four years later, Democrats lost control of the House, and debate over slavery grew so heated that some members carried pistols onto the House floor. 14 Southern Democrats walked out of the party's 1860 convention and ended up nominating a pro-slavery candidate of their own. The Democratic Party was cut in two, leading to the election of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln — who would eventually abolish slavery — in a four-way race. Since then, 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats have been elected president.

Grand New Party

Republicans dominated American politics for most of the 72 years following Lincoln's election, occupying the White House for 56 of those years, controlling the Senate for 60 and the House for 50. But Lincoln's prosecution of the Civil War and the subsequent Reconstruction of the South earned the Republicans intense enmity in the South for the next century, preventing the GOP from becoming a true national party until recent times.

After losing two close presidential elections to Democrat Grover Cleveland in 1884 and 1892, Republicans in 1896 forged a coalition of Northern urbanites, prosperous farmers and industrial workers, solidifying their position as “the majority party of the nation” everywhere but in the solid Democratic South. 15 Republicans held onto the White House until 1932, except in 1912 when former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt ran as a third-party “Bull Moose” candidate and split the GOP vote with President William Howard Taft — leading to the eight-year reign of Democrat Woodrow Wilson. As late as 1928, the GOP candidate, Herbert Hoover, carried 40 states.

Hoover, of course, would bear the blame for the Great Depression and lose to Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt four years later. FDR's New Deal Coalition combined support from blacks, urban ethnics, Jews, Catholics, organized labor and Southerners to produce a new majority that would last for the next three decades.

The Democrats' presidential run was broken only in 1952 and 1956 by Dwight D. Eisenhower — the latest in a long string of military heroes elected president more on the strength of their personal popularity than their party label. Eisenhower did little to challenge New Deal programs, especially after the midterm elections of 1954 provided Democrats with enduring majorities in both houses of Congress.

During the first 20 years after World War II, the parties shared power about equally outside of the South. From 1968 until 2003, control of the White House and at least one chamber of Congress was split between the two parties — except for six and a half years (during Jimmy Carter's administration, Clinton's first two years in office and Bush's first six months in office). With consensus on most domestic issues and agreement on fighting the Cold War, politics were fairly tranquil, with about three-quarters of the public trusting the government in Washington to do “the right thing.” 16

In 1960, Democrat John F. Kennedy barely beat Eisenhower's vice president, Richard M. Nixon, to win the presidency by a mere 118,574 votes. Kennedy pushed an inclusive vision, promoting programs for the poor while offering tax cuts to keep the middle class in the Democratic column. After Kennedy's assassination in 1963, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, outlawing discrimination in employment and public accommodations, largely to memorialize the slain president and after strong arm-twisting by Kennedy's successor, Southerner Lyndon B. Johnson. The following year, Congress cleared the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed literacy tests and similar qualification devices used to keep blacks off the rolls. Johnson signed the bill in full knowledge that it would weaken his party in the South. 17

Johnson won re-election in a landslide in 1964, but that election saw the first GOP inroads into the Deep South, with Barry Goldwater carrying five Southern states, largely in reaction to passage of the Civil Rights Act. In the midterm elections of 1966, Republicans gained 47 House seats and picked up three new Senate seats from the South. They also picked up eight new governorships, including Ronald Reagan's in California. The public generally felt that Johnson had gone too far with his poverty programs and civil rights legislation.

By the late 1960s, courts began ordering the integration of public schools in the South, the delayed result of a 1954 Supreme Court decision — another development that alienated Southerners from the Democratic Party. In 1968, a year punctuated by race riots and the assassinations of civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, D-N.Y., Nixon tied his Democratic opponent, Hubert H. Humphrey, in the popular vote, but carried the Electoral College. Alabama Gov. George Wallace — running as the American Independent candidate — carried five Southern states.

Nixon's so-called “Southern strategy” had contributed to “a positive polarization of the electorate,” in his running mate's phrase, by assuring Southerners that he opposed school busing to achieve integration and favored states' rights on social issues. 18


Nixon's Southern strategy paid immediate dividends. The newfound Republican strength in the South — combined with support in the Mountain West and Plains states — gave the GOP what for a long time looked like a “lock” on the Electoral College. Republicans won five of the six presidential elections from 1968 to 1988, losing only the post-Watergate contest of 1976.

Reagan's 1980 victory also broke the party's 26-year drought in the Senate, creating a majority there that lasted for six years. In addition, it marked the rise of a new, more conservative Republican Party: Reagan stressed lower taxes, smaller government and a robust defense. Social conservatives also favored Reagan, who promoted their agenda rhetorically, if not all that actively once in office. Reagan's ideas had a lasting influence on the GOP, but his personal popularity did not convert itself into a majority for the party in Congress. That would have to wait until 1994.

President Clinton had tried to pull the Democrats back to the center after its disastrous flirtation with the New Left in the 1970s and '80s. But opposition to his ambitious universal health-care plan, his decision to raise taxes to plug a deficit and his support for gun control helped the Democrats lose their 40-year House majority in 1994.

Throughout much of that period out of power, House Republicans often cooperated with the majority in hopes of winning approval for some of their favored projects. At times, particularly early in the Reagan presidency, they were able to join forces with conservative Southern Democrats to create a working majority. Their fortunes began to change after Reagan left office, when Rep. Gingrich joined the leadership.

House Republicans had frequently changed leaders in hopes of selecting one who would more aggressively confront the Democratic majority. 19 With Gingrich, they finally picked a true aggressor. With the help of other Republicans who felt their caucus had been too compliant under Democratic rule, Gingrich in 1983 founded the Conservative Opportunity Society, a rump group dedicated to circumventing the Democratic Party's refusal to address GOP pet issues, such as tax cuts and constitutional amendments to allow school prayer and ban abortion.

Gingrich's signature line at that stage of his career was to decry the “liberal welfare state.” After joining the House leadership in 1989 — having contributed to the toppling of heavy-handed House Speaker Wright — Gingrich recruited countless GOP candidates and instructed them to refer to the Democrats in negative terms, such as “pathetic,” “sick” and “corrupt.”

The strategy paid off but contributed to a heightened level of partisan ill will in Washington. A cornerstone of the GOP's new strategy was the South, which finally was voting Republican for Congress as well as president. In 1994, the GOP won a majority of the region's House seats for the first time since Reconstruction. All of the party's congressional leadership, like Gingrich, hailed from the South.

“As Southerners moved into positions of power and influence within the GOP,” writes historian Lewis Gould, “their racial views, cultural conservatism and religious moralism sometimes grated on other sections of the nation. Like the Democrats before them, the Republicans would find that having a 'Solid South' was a mixed advantage.” 20

Perhaps the GOP's biggest political mistake was impeaching Clinton for lying about his sexual conduct in office. The relentless attack led to the GOP losing five House seats in 1998 — the first time the president's party had gained seats in a midterm election since 1934. Gingrich was tossed from power and resigned his seat.

“The Gingrich revolution had a great impact that hasn't left off yet in polarizing things,” says Rutgers University political scientist Alan Rosenthal. “For the Republicans to win Congress, they had to play mean, and they continue to do so, and the Democrats saw that that worked.”

In 2000, Bush ran for president as “a uniter, not a divider.” Gore, who won the popular vote, managed to hold onto many of the states Clinton had brought back into the Democratic column. The Democrats now enjoy an advantage in many former Republican strongholds, such as New Jersey and most of New England — the old “Eastern Establishment” provinces where voters have been put off by the new GOP's socially conservative message.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader, running as a Green Party candidate, ate into Gore's vote total in toss-up states — most notably Florida. Bush narrowly prevailed in the Electoral College, after the Supreme Court ended a 36-day standoff, during which Florida's voting results were in dispute.

Despite his narrow victory, Bush has governed as an unblinking conservative on domestic and foreign issues. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Democrats held their fire and largely supported Bush, with many — including presumptive Democratic candidate Kerry — supporting the resolution authorizing the war in Iraq. But rather than rewarding the Democrats' loyalty to Bush, voters in 2002 rallied around the president: Republicans regained control of the Senate.

Partisan disputes go way back in American politics. North-South sectional disputes erupted in Congress on May 22, 1856. South Carolina Rep. Preston S. Brooks attacks seated Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner with his cane after Sumner insulted two Senate colleagues. South Carolina Rep. Lawrence M. Keitt, center, raises his own cane to keep other legislators at bay, while hiding a pistol behind his back. (Library of Congress)  
Partisan disputes go way back in American politics. North-South sectional disputes erupted in Congress on May 22, 1856. South Carolina Rep. Preston S. Brooks attacks seated Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner with his cane after Sumner insulted two Senate colleagues. South Carolina Rep. Lawrence M. Keitt, center, raises his own cane to keep other legislators at bay, while hiding a pistol behind his back. (Library of Congress)

Since then, Democrats have hardened their opposition to Bush's policies. Bush himself has been a polarizing force as president, failing to “change the tone in Washington,” as he had promised. He is enormously popular among Republicans but equally reviled among Democrats. So the verdict on the Bush presidency may very well depend on the few voters left in the middle.

Go to top

Current Situation

Upcoming Election

The famously divided 2000 presidential election was the third such election in a row in which neither candidate won a majority — the first time that had happened since the period between 1884 and 1892. It also represented the third set of congressional elections in a row in which neither party mustered a majority of the overall vote.

Republicans finally managed a slight majority (51 percent) of the congressional vote in 2002. This November, Bush and the Republicans will try to forge a stable majority coalition. Knowing they will face long years in the wilderness if they again fall short, Democrats will try everything they can to block them.

The presidential race between Bush and Kerry is too close to call at this point. Bush enjoys the advantages of incumbency and a huge fundraising lead, but voters unhappy with Bush's handling of the economy and Iraq have embraced Kerry.

Presidential elections usually amount to referenda on the incumbent. This year, however, most voters' positions appear to be set in stone, months before the nominating conventions — with partisan allegiances and the electoral map strongly resembling the 2000 patterns that resulted in a toss-up.

The Bush and Kerry campaigns already have all but conceded to each other more than 30 states that were not close in 2000, and independent groups have likewise concluded that most states probably will be a lock for one side or the other. Hence, both candidates have targeted their advertising campaigns on 16-18 key states. 21

“When you have a strong polarizer in the White House in either party, the center tends to shrink,” says Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. “People become more emotional about their party ties — you either love him or you hate him, and the center shrinks.”

In his recent book The Two Americas, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg says the Republican base consists of voters in rural areas, fast-growing outer suburbs and the Deep South. “It includes the workingmen who want the government to stop messing with them and the world to stop messing with America,” Greenberg writes. “And it is a world for the most privileged.” 22

Meanwhile, Democratic loyalists are found among African-Americans, Hispanics, union households, women with postgraduate degrees and high incomes and voters in “Cosmopolitan States,” such as California, New York and New Jersey, Greenberg notes. 23

“New Deal Democrats were the party of Southern whites, urban ethnics and Midwestern blue-collar workers,” writes Democratic demographer Ruy Teixiera. “Now Democrats are the party of teachers, nurses and janitors,” along with college-educated white-collar workers, who Teixeira says have voted 52 to 40 percent in favor of Democrats over the last four presidential elections. 24

Religious Right

Greenberg and other political observers also have noted the divide among voters based on their church attendance, or lack thereof. In 2000, evangelicals who regularly attend church gave Bush, an evangelical Christian, 84 percent of their vote, while nearly 60 percent of those who don't attend church regularly supported Gore. 25 “It's easy to caricature them,” said Karl Rove, Bush's top political adviser, “but they're essentially your neighbors who go to church on a regular basis and whose life is a community of faith and who are concerned about values.” 26

Rove has said that 4 million evangelicals failed to vote in 2000, an estimate he and the Bush administration have worked diligently to erase in this year's campaign. (The party's success in the 2002 midterm elections has been widely attributed to improved Republican turnout efforts, particularly in Georgia and other Southern states.)

Several Bush actions have appealed to evangelicals and other culturally conservative voters, including limiting stem-cell research, seeking a constitutional ban on gay marriage and signing a bill making it illegal to harm a fetus while committing another federal crime. Some pundits say such issues and others, like the current case before the Supreme Court challenging use of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, suggest that the cultural divide remains wide open and may favor Bush. 27 Even debates about the phenomenally popular movie “The Passion of the Christ” — which takes a conservative Christian view of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ — reflect that divide.

Courting the Bases

Meanwhile, Bush has made moves that could eat into the Democrats' traditional base among Latinos and the elderly. His appointment of Miguel Estrada to the federal bench and his proposal to create a temporary guest-worker plan were, at least in part, meant as appeals to the heavily courted Latino vote. Similarly, his education reform initiative and expansion of Medicare to cover prescription drugs were designed to cut into Democratic support among the elderly and voters concerned about the state of public education. 28

After the Sept. 11 attacks, as the country rallied around its president, congressional Democrats complied with most of Bush's wishes and did not offer a strong alternative platform during the 2002 midterm elections. It cost them dearly in both chambers. Then as the presidential primary season got under way, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean came out swinging, claiming he represented “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” (borrowing the line from the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.). Dean's attacks on Bush — particularly on the war in Iraq — resonated with poll respondents, and Dean held a sizeable lead throughout the second half of 2003. But his liabilities — his claim that the United States was not safer after Saddam Hussein's capture, his criticism of Bush's tax cuts for the middle class and his support of civil unions for gays — left Democratic voters worried he would alienate moderates.

Indeed, Democrats during the primary season seemed most concerned with “electability” — finding a candidate who could beat Bush. Kerry seemed to win out on that question, more than on his merit or positions.

“Bush has succeeded in doing something that was almost impossible in the '90s — he's united the Democrats,” says Ted Widmer, a historian at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., and former Clinton speechwriter.

With the center diminished — “There is no middle,” Rove said — the two parties are tending to their bases, hoping to get the faithful to the polls while picking off just enough independents to cobble a majority. Both sides act as if they'd be satisfied by “winning ugly,” grinding out electoral gains with 50.1 percent of the vote. 29

“All non-voters are irrelevant and unimportant,” political analyst Stuart Rothenberg wrote in an online chat, “and I am skeptical about efforts by the right, left or radical center to motivate large numbers of non-voters. It seems that every election we talk about bringing new people into the system, but the 2004 contest is likely to be about which party motivates its base and sways swing voters.” 30

And as for undecided swing voters, most live in states already considered sewn up by one party or the other, such as California and Texas, according to the Pew Research Center. That leaves less than 10 percent of the undecided electorate living in states considered competitive.

“The behavior of the parties is probably not helping this situation,” says the center's Keeter. “The parties are not helping people that aren't already on board to think about joining up. There's a lot of maintenance of the base going on.”

The notion that less than 10 percent of voters are really in play in the presidential race mirrors the new picture in House races, where most voters' choices, in effect, don't count. Due to modern, technologically sophisticated redistricting, there are very few competitive House seats left — estimates range from 25 to 40 in any given cycle, depending on retirements, out of 435 seats. That means the Democrats would have to win close to about 70 percent of the seats seriously in contention to erase the GOP's current 11-seat majority. Their job is made especially difficult this year because the Texas legislature redrew the state's congressional map, giving Republicans a good chance of picking up a half-dozen additional seats. 31

A similar mid-decade redistricting in Colorado was ruled to have violated the state's constitution. And the U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule by June in a Pennsylvania case that could determine whether partisan gerrymandering is constitutional. During oral arguments last December, even justices sympathetic to the notion that the court could play a role in limiting districts drawn for maximum partisan advantage did not appear convinced that a workable legal standard could be devised. 32

Democrats also appear unlikely to regain control of the Senate, even though Republicans currently hold only a two-seat majority. Democrats are defending more seats — including five in the South — being vacated by retirements than the GOP. And, like the Electoral College, rural and underpopulated states have a disproportionate voice in the Senate, further hurting Democrats' chances because they draw more support from urbanites. Of the 21 states with two Republican senators, 18 have 7 million inhabitants or less. In fact, the 36 Republican senators from those 18 states represent only 2 million more inhabitants than California and New York combined, which send four Democrats to the Senate.

Partisanship is increasing in state legislatures as well, for many of the same reasons it's increasing in Congress. For most of the postwar era, Democrats enjoyed healthy leads in both the number of legislators and legislatures they controlled, but Republicans have superseded them in both categories over the last couple of years. The same tight party competition that keeps Congress narrowly divided exists in the states: About 60 percent of the legislative chambers could be won by either party, and every election cycle since 1984 has resulted in at least one tied chamber somewhere.

Republicans increased their number of governorships last year to 28 — including the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger following the recall of Democrat Gray Davis, the first such recall since 1921. Of course, Davis was not above pressing for partisan advantage himself, as displayed most vividly in his $10 million ad campaign against former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan in the 2002 primary, helping to deny the nomination of the candidate Davis least wanted to face in November — part of a growing trend of candidates interfering in the other party's primaries.

The recall occurred four years after the first presidential impeachment in 130 years. Two years later, the presidential election was marred by legal wrangling over voting results in Florida, ended by a narrow majority in the Supreme Court. These trends, along with the mid-decade redistricting efforts, lead University of Kansas political scientist Burdett Loomis to conclude that we're living in an age of “slightly unhinged partisanship.”

Formerly extreme and extraordinary political and legal tactics are being used with increasing regularity, he points out. “We will redistrict because we can, we will impeach because we can, we will recall because we can,” Loomis says. “We're going to politicize everything. In a sense, partisan advantage becomes everything.”

Go to top


Continued Parity?

Although Republicans and Democrats have been fighting for 150 years, at the moment, it appears they've fought each other to a draw. “Parity is an anomaly in American politics,” says Marshall, of the Progressive Policy Institute. “Usually there is a governing party and an opposition party — a sun and a moon. But we've been so long in this period of parity that I'm beginning to wonder whether we've got a new norm.”

“It's sort of like the exhaustion of two boxers fighting it out in the middle of the ring,” Rove told The New Yorker. “This happened in 1896, where the Civil War party system was in decline, and the parties were in rough parity and somebody came along and figured it out and helped create a governing coalition that really lasted for the next some-odd years. Similarly, somebody will come along and figure out a new governing scheme through which people could view things and could, conceivably, enjoy a similar period of dominance.” 33

Republicans appear to be in a better position to break through as the new majority party. Their victories at the presidential and congressional levels have been slim — but they have been victories. They appear certain to retain their congressional majorities this year and, if Bush gets re-elected, they'll be able to leverage incumbency into greater power.

“There are five — five! — Democratic seats in the Senate up for grabs in the South,” said one Democratic strategist. “We could lose four. I think we will. And the Republicans could have a majority for 30 to 40 years.” 34

Of course, during the 1980s, many political observers spoke of a Republican “lock” on the White House, which Clinton managed to “pick” twice in a row. And since Republicans haven't won the popular presidential vote since 1988, some Democrats believe demographics favor them over the long haul. Some largely Democratic groups, such as Latinos and secular voters, are growing faster than parts of the Republican base. 35 Bush's pollster Matthew Dowd has said that if all the demographic groups vote as they did in 2000, Bush will lose this year — even though the number of electoral votes in states that supported him has increased. 36

“We are in need of diversity — women, Latin, African-American, Asian,” former Republican National Committee Chairman Rich Bond said. “We've taken white guys as far as that group can go.” 37

Republicans, of course, have been actively courting Latinos, Jews and others who traditionally have supported Democrats. Meanwhile, “demography is moving, slowly, toward the Bush nation,” says journalist Michael Barone. 38 He notes that the states Bush won in 2000, which were then worth 271 electoral votes, now hold 278 electoral votes after the decennial reapportionment. In 2000, except for California, Bush carried every state that later gained House seats — mostly in the South or West. Complicating the matter for Democrats is the fact that Nader, widely seen as a spoiler during the 2000 campaign, is running again this year.

Both major parties understand which groups are in play and what messages might most appeal to them. “Parties and politicians have gotten very, very sophisticated strategically,” says Jim Jordan, a longtime Democratic strategist now with America Coming Together, a new group that supports the party's candidates. “We've hit a type of equilibrium of appeal, and when a party seems to move too far in a certain direction either to the left or the right, there are powerful corrective forces.

“Polling has become so sophisticated,” Jordan continues. “We know immediately what the public is thinking, and there are powerful desires to satisfy those urges. In effect, as parties, we won't allow ourselves to take positions that consign us to minority status.”

In addition, both parties have “stolen” issues from each other in recent years. Clinton got credit for signing a Republican bill to overhaul welfare, while Bush has paid more attention to education and signed the largest expansion of federal entitlements in 40 years with his Medicare prescription-drug plan.

If both parties speak the same language on certain issues, however, their approaches remain fundamentally different. They use the language of broadest appeal when talking to swing voters but cast competing plans and candidates in the starkest terms when speaking to their supporters.

Creating a majority, says Sabato of the University of Virginia, “takes not just one party being smart, it takes the other party being really stupid and refusing for ideological reasons to get on the right side of some huge emotional issues that really matter to voters.”

So what will end this period of parity? “Big events are going to reshape the political landscape,” Marshall says.

The most profound event of recent times — the Sept. 11 attacks — has had a major effect on politics, but it's not yet certain what its ultimate political effect will be.

“If Democrats can't compete on national security,” Marshall suggests, “then you may see a Republican trend through several election cycles.” But Marshall notes that Democrats, partly by nominating Vietnam War veteran Kerry and questioning Bush's handling of Iraq and the war on terror, are trying to neutralize the Republican lead on this issue.

Bush's use of images from Sept. 11 in his first campaign ads this year — and the charges by his former anti-terror chief Richard A. Clarke that Bush was inattentive to international terror before Sept. 11 — suggest that the terrorist attacks have become just one more partisan issue. And the growing number of U.S. casualties in Iraq makes the war increasingly controversial. 39

In any event, arguments about war haven't precluded arguments about other issues. “Sept. 11 should have ended the culture war,” says Wolfe, of Boston College. “The idea that we can still argue about these really trivial wedge issues after this tragedy is just unbelievable.”

Self-described centrists like Wolfe are disappointed that leaders of both parties continue to offer partisan approaches to issues, rather than reaching a consensus. But with both parties afraid to abandon their bases amid intense competitiveness, he will no doubt remain disappointed.

Eventually, events and problems will force one party or the other to offer a bold enough position to break the deadlock. The Heritage Foundation's Franc suggests that day will come when the Baby Boomers retire and the costs of major entitlement programs grow by double-digit rates.

“That's going to be the big divide — what's going to be done about keeping all the promises made to Baby Boomers,” he says. “If entitlement spending keeps going, will it crowd out defense, or force tax increases?”

Those questions remain a few years down the road. Until then, Franc says, people on either side of the partisan divide are likely to remain where they are. “Forevermore, presidents will be viewed in very bright, clear colors, and there will be no more grays and pastels,” Franc says. “You're either with me or you're not, and you're right or wrong on an issue.”

Go to top


Are third-party alternatives needed in this year's presidential election?


Richard Winger
Editor, Ballot Access News. Written for The CQ Researcher, April 2004

Voters respond favorably to elections in which they have more than two viable choices. In 1992, when Ross Perot ran as an independent, voter turnout rose for the first time since 1980, another election with three strong presidential candidates.

Ralph Nader's entry in this year's presidential election will attract voters who have a visceral dislike of both major parties. Commentators who presume that all of Nader's voters are those who would otherwise vote Democratic are not paying attention. Nader has been endorsed by many leaders of Perot's Reform Party, including former Chairman Jack Gargan. And Nader has reached out to Perot voters, saying Perot was right about NAFTA and other issues.

People use the term “two-party system” as a synonym for the Democratic and Republican parties, and they talk about candidates operating “outside the two-party system.” This is nonsense. Minor parties are not only part of the two-party system but also a key factor in making it work better.

This is true at the state level as well as in presidential contests. In 1998, Minnesota enjoyed a 60-percent voter turnout — by far the best turnout in any state in 1998, or in 2002, for that matter. (The average turnout in both years nationally was below 40 percent). In 1998, Minnesota saw a gubernatorial election with three viable candidates; former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura won, running as a Reform candidate.

Two-party systems are considered healthy when either of the two major parties has a fair chance to win. But sometimes one of the two major parties gets permanently too strong compared to the other one. The United States had this problem from 1860 to 1932, when the Republicans won 14 presidential elections and only lost four. Minor parties kept that imbalance from being even worse than it was. Republicans lost the presidential elections of 1884, 1912 and 1916 because of minor parties.

During the 1980s, many commentators discussed the so-called Republican lock on the Electoral College, arguing that it made a democratic presidential victory impossible. This theory was especially strong after the 1988 election. But then Perot entered the race in 1992, giving the Democrats a chance to win.

Minor parties and independent candidates help keep the two-party system healthy by keeping the two major parties in closer balance.


Amy Isaacs
National Director, Americans for Democratic Action. Written for The CQ Researcher, April 2004

Over the years, numerous third-party candidacies have had a positive impact on the political system. The introduction of new and alternative ideas can — as Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Progressive Party did in 1912 — make our nation healthier and more prosperous.

But, while we stand for the freedoms and benefits attributed to third-party campaigns, they must be judged in their context and on their merit. We must also recognize the potential dangers that can bring more harm than good — both for the causes we champion and the needs of the nation.

The most recent example is the 2000 election. Ralph Nader's Green Party platform was based on many of the same liberal positions that formed the basic platform for many Democrats and the campaign of Vice President Al Gore. Yet, by splitting small majorities in states like Florida and New Hampshire, Nader supporters ultimately contributed to the election of a president with views and eventually policies quite contrary to progressive goals.

Americans for Democratic Action always has and always will support the right of third-party candidacies to vie for national political office. By raising a wider range of issues and forcing major-party candidates to take stances on these issues, minor-party candidates bring a valuable component to any election. For 57 years we have fought to preserve the basic principles of American democracy, including the right to freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

But the 2004 election is one of the most important elections of our time. The Bush administration has threatened the very fabric of that which unites all Americans in the search for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A repeat performance by Mr. Nader in 2004 would represent a disaster at untenable cost.

Perhaps minor parties should petition the major-party candidate that they most identify with to carry their message. However, now is not the time to divide essentially like-minded voters. The world's fortune pivots on a narrow margin of error and that calls for no third-party intervention in this election cycle.

Go to top


1960s-1980s Republicans eventually dominate the White House, but Democrats maintain control of Congress
1960John F. Kennedy defeats Richard M. Nixon by 118,550 votes, but Democrats lose seats in both the House and Senate — the first time in a century any winning presidential candidate's party lost seats.
1964President Lyndon B. Johnson wins by a landslide, carrying 44 states — but five Deep South states oppose him, opening the first cracks in Democratic control of the region.
1966In a backlash against Johnson's anti-poverty and civil rights programs, Republicans gain 47 House seats, elect three Southern senators and pick up eight new governorships, including Ronald Reagan's in California.
1968Nixon wins the presidency, narrowly defeating Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey in a three-way race and inaugurating an era of divided federal government that lasts, with few interruptions, until 2002.
1974In a backlash to the Watergate scandal, 75 new House Democrats are elected, presaging the Democrats' sole White House victory between 1968 and 1988 — Jimmy Carter's in 1976.
1980Reagan is elected president, heralding the modern GOP message of low taxes, strong defense and conservative stances on cultural issues.
1984Reagan is re-elected in a 49-state landslide, increasing voter identification with Republicans, particularly among born-again Christians and cutting into Democratic strength in blue-collar union households.
1990s-2000s Democrats tack to the center but continue to lose power to a decidedly more conservative GOP.
1992Moderate “New Democrat” Bill Clinton defeats the first President George Bush. Ross Perot takes 19 percent of the presidential vote — the best third-party showing since 1912.
1994Unpopular Clinton initiatives on health care and gun control help Republicans win majorities in both houses of Congress — for the first time in 40 years, including their first majority of Southern House seats since Reconstruction; Republicans also open up a big lead in governorships.
1998For the first time since 1934, the president's party gains seats in a midterm election, largely in response to the GOP investigation into Clinton's sex life. Clinton then becomes the second president to be impeached after the House, along party lines, finds him guilty of lying and obstructing investigations into his personal conduct.
1999The Senate acquits Clinton, voting largely along party lines.
2000George W. Bush loses the popular vote for the presidency but wins a majority of electoral votes, after the U.S. Supreme Court ends a 36-day recount standoff in Florida. Election reveals Democratic estrangement in the South and much of the nation's midsection.
2001Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont leaves the GOP, putting a tied Senate into Democratic hands. . . . Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a spirit of bipartisanship is short-lived.
2002GOP recaptures the Senate and retains control of the House. . . . More Republicans are elected to state legislatures than Democrats for the first time in 50 years.
October 2003The legislature approves a new congressional-district map increasing the GOP's share of the state's congressional delegation.
November 2003Republicans hold a House vote open for an unprecedented three hours, starting at 3 a.m., to round up votes to pass Medicare bill.
December 2003U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in Pennsylvania case on constitutional limits to partisan gerrymandering.
March 2004Democrats quickly select Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts as their presumptive nominee to face Bush in November, showing uncommon solidarity in their desire to find a candidate who is “electable.”
April 28, 2004U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, upholds Pennsylvania redistricting plan.

Go to top

Short Features

All this spring term, Emily Epting, a senior at the University of Georgia, has been wearing buttons that say unkind things about President Bush.

“Every time he opens his mouth, he digs himself deeper into a hole of lies and deceit,” she says, criticizing Bush's policies on Iraq, gay marriage and the budget.

Others think Bush has emerged as a great leader, supporting his positions on all the issues that infuriate Epting. “Providence was smiling on the United States of America on that night when George Bush finally became president,” Mitch Daniels, the leading Republican candidate for governor in Indiana, told the GOP faithful at a recent Lincoln Day dinner.

Bush, who ran for office as “a uniter, not a divider,” has become a polarizing figure as president. Virtually all Democrats plan to vote against him, while Republicans are just as unanimous in supporting him. A March USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll showed that 91 percent of Republicans approved of the job Bush is doing, but only 17 percent of Democrats approved — the largest partisan gap in presidential job performance ratings since Gallup began measuring in 1948. 1

In December, Time ran a cover story called “The Love Him, Hate Him President.” 2 But the question remains whether Bush is to blame for being a divisive figure, or whether half the country is bound to dislike whoever is governing at a time when voters are so evenly divided along partisan lines.

President Bush campaigned on being “a uniter, not a divider,” but critics say he has been a polarizing figure, loved or hated by seemingly equal numbers of people. (AFP Photo/Luke Fazza)  
President Bush campaigned on being “a uniter, not a divider,” but critics say he has been a polarizing figure, loved or hated by seemingly equal numbers of people. (AFP Photo/Luke Fazza)

“When Republicans rated Bill Clinton in the late 1990s, they were as negative in terms of strong disapproval about him as Democrats are about President Bush now,” says Scott Keeter, associate director of the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press.

The nation was split before Bush took office, after having prevailed in what was about as close to a tied election as you can get. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 to former Vice President Al Gore but won just one more electoral vote than required. In 18 states, the winning candidate prevailed by 6 percent or less.

Mike Franc, vice president of government relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation, says Bush — the first president to preside over an all-Republican government since Dwight D. Eisenhower — “may have become the poster child for the Democratic Party's frustration at being out of power in ways it hasn't been out of power in many, many decades.”

But Rep. David R. Obey, a senior Democrat from Wisconsin, says Bush should have been humbled by his narrow victory. “I'm not saying he had to go around in sackcloth and ashes,” Obey says. Instead, Bush “thinks he learned from his father's defeat to never allow one ounce of separation between himself and the most extreme segments of his party.”

Other Democrats are dismayed that Bush did not present himself as a unifying figure after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “After 9/11, there was the inevitable rallying around the president after an unimaginable catastrophe,” says Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a moderate Democratic think tank. “People wanted this president to succeed, and the normal rules of political combat were suspended.”

Instead, Bush squandered that goodwill by taking a “my way or the highway approach” to domestic issues like tax cuts and the war in Iraq, Marshall says.

William Schneider, a political analyst for CNN and the conservative American Enterprise Institute, agrees that Bush used up any residual post-9/11 goodwill on Iraq. “He spent his political capital, just like he spent his surplus on a tax cut. It's all gone.”

Republicans acknowledge that Bush has become a polarizing figure, but they argue that acting nice and reaching out across party lines matters less than sturdy leadership in wartime.

Franc says politicians and activists are divided between those who think 9/11 was an isolated event and that terrorism is a less pressing concern than health care, the economy and other purely domestic issues, and those who side with Bush in thinking that “terrorism is like an Ebola virus and you have to stamp it out at the expense of everything else.

“To the conservative side of the electorate, the president has been masterful at steering the country through this period of challenge after 9/11,” he says.

[1] Richard Benedetto and Judy Keen, “Love Him or Loathe Him: Electorate Polarized Over Bush,” USA Today, March 10, 2004, p. 4A.

[2] John F. Dickerson and Karen Tumulty, “The Love Him, Hate Him President,” Time, Dec. 1, 2003, p. 28.

Go to top

Many people debate whether the 2002 federal campaign finance reform law succeeded in limiting the influence of big money in politics. But they don't disagree over one of the law's unintended consequences: the weakening of America's two major political parties.

The so-called McCain-Feingold law, representing the most profound change in political financing in 30 years, banned national political parties from using “soft money” — unregulated campaign donations from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals. 3

But in trying to keep soft money out of party officials' hands, the law has prevented the parties from doing the kind of grass-roots organizing they traditionally have done. “McCain-Feingold has had a profoundly negative effect on political parties,” says Jim Jordan, spokesman for America Coming Together, a new, liberal fundraising group. “They're simply less well funded to do their traditional, core work.”

Ironically, the law has actually encouraged more campaign donations from special interests. Instead of relying on million-dollar donations from big contributors, parties and candidates are raising record amounts of money by leaning hard on more lobbyists to write $2,000 checks. 4

Meanwhile, the law has empowered hundreds of new groups like Jordan's — known as 527s after a section of the tax code — to collect multimillion-dollar donations to do the same work once done by political parties: running television ads, registering voters and encouraging supporters to turn out on Election Day. The most prominent 527 so far is the Media Fund, supported by billionaire investor George Soros, which is running millions of dollars' worth of anti-Bush ads in key “swing” states. Another pro-Democratic group, Partnership for America's Families, registered 86,000 Philadelphia voters last fall, helping Mayor John Street eke out an 85,000-vote win.

The rise in the influence of soft money grew out of post-Watergate rule changes that allowed state parties to use unregulated funds for “party-building activities,” such as paying for yard signs and voter registration efforts. But the exemption grew into an enormous loophole that transformed state parties into virtual money-laundering machines for each other and the national party committees.

During the 2000 and 2002 election cycles, the two major national parties gave $472 million in soft money to state parties nationwide. 5 But in 2002 — before McCain-Feingold took effect — state parties spent only about $52 million on genuine party-building expenses, devoting most of the rest to broadcast ads that skirted regulations, according to Anthony Corrado, a campaign finance expert at the Brookings Institution.

Under the new law, all nuts-and-bolts party work that occurs within 120 days of a federal election (primary or general) — such as identifying and registering voters or bringing them to the polls — is now considered “federal election activity” and is subject to federal regulation. Even if a county party is merely seeking to support its local sheriff, if a federal candidate is on the same ballot, all party contacts with voters are subject to the new regulations.

“You could interpret this law so broadly that if I tell people to 'vote for the Republican team,' that could trigger federal disclosure and reporting requirements,” complains Indiana state Rep. Mike Murphy, chairman of the Marion County (Indianapolis) GOP. “The whole psyche of how people identify with political parties would be damaged if state and local candidates have to put up a Chinese wall between themselves and federal candidates.”

Because of the complex nature of the new campaign finance law, that wall is going up. State party officials now avoid contact with federal candidates whenever possible. Moreover, the law inhibits federal candidates from appearing at fundraisers or in ads for state or local candidates. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) ruled in January that President Bush cannot appear in ads this year endorsing other state, local or congressional Republican candidates unless his re-election campaign pays for the ad. Otherwise, the ad would be considered an illegal donation to the Bush campaign. 6 The new restrictions apply to other federal candidates as well.

But American political parties are nothing if not adaptable. The powerful entities that once decided who ran for what office and with how much support had found a new role in recent years as support organs, offering consulting and fundraising support to self-selected aspirants. With those functions now under legal restriction, the parties may be forced into still another role: as clearinghouses of legal advice for avoiding McCain-Feingold's many minefields.

“The bottom line,” says Wayne Hamilton, a senior adviser to the Texas GOP, “is we tell our local parties to stay completely away from any type of federal activity unless they have the money to hire attorneys that specialize in FEC regulation and federal campaign laws.”

[3] The law was named after its sponsors, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis. For background, see Kenneth Jost, “Campaign Finance Showdown,” The CQ Researcher, Nov. 22, 2002, pp. 969-992.

[4] Glen Justice, “New Rules on Fundraising Bring Lobbyists to the Fore,” The New York Times, April 20, 2004, p. A14.

[5] Denise Barber, “Life Before BCRA: Soft Money at the State Levels in the 2000 & 2002 Election Cycles,” The Institute on Money in State Politics, Dec. 17, 2003, p. 3 (

[6] Dana Milbank and Thomas B. Edsall, “FEC Curbs 'Endorsement' Ads,” The Washington Post, Jan. 30, 2004, p. A2.

Go to top

Go to top

To outward appearances, Kansas is one of the most solidly Republican states in the country. Kansans haven't supported a Democrat for president in 40 years and haven't sent one to the U.S. Senate since 1932.

But serious internal rifts have developed within the state's GOP, making it, in effect, the nation's only three-party state. Power is now divided about evenly between moderate Republicans, conservative Republicans and Democrats. The two wings of the GOP run separate candidates for many offices and often cannot coalesce behind the winner in their party primaries.

The state's Board of Education represents, in microcosm, the political schism within Kansas. Although seven of its 10 members are Republicans, the board chose a Democratic chairwoman because the two GOP factions thought she would make a better peacemaker. Republicans on the board split primarily over the teaching of evolution, which has led to heated elections and acrimony.

Besides evolution, most GOP arguments in Kansas surround differing views on social issues — most notably abortion. “We've had, for quite a few years, a strong difference of opinion between two factions of the Republican Party — social conservatives and regular Republicans,” says Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Intelligence Committee. “These are building blocks of your personal beliefs, and it's difficult to compromise.”

In the 1998 GOP primary, Gov. Bill Graves, a moderate, easily turned back a conservative challenge by a former party chairman. After that, Roberts says, many Republicans hoped the infighting would end. Instead, the conservatives, ousted from control of the party organization, left the incoming moderates — who sometimes call themselves the “mod squad” — with just $500 in the bank. In effect, they had taken their ball and gone home, setting up rump organizations to support their favored candidates. Sen. Sam Brownback became a leader of the more conservative wing after defeating a Republican appointed by Graves to fill a Senate seat in a 1996 primary.

GOP infighting helped Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, win election as governor two years ago, even as Roberts was being re-elected without having to face a Democratic opponent. In dealing with the legislature, Sebelius navigates between three competing factions. Whichever wing of the GOP feels most put-upon will often side with Democrats — as conservatives did in 2002 to pass a legislative-redistricting plan designed to hurt moderate members of their own party.

“The governor has to look at the three factions and try to figure out where her majority is coming from,” says Burdett Loomis, a political scientist at the University of Kansas. Loomis says state Senate President Dave Kerr recently visited his classroom and told students about his need to elect moderate Republicans in this year's legislative elections. He wasn't interested in electing just any Republicans, Loomis recalls, because more conservatives would threaten his grasp on power.

The fighting in Kansas has a lot to do with one party having been in power for nearly all of the state's history. 7 “When conservatives rail against big government, they can't complain about Democrats because it was the Republicans who built this state government,” says Michael Smith, a Kansas State University political scientist. “That's a big cause of the rift.”

Fights for control of the state GOP and its nominations are naturally intense and sometimes split along regional lines, such as education-funding disagreements between Republicans in wealthy, suburban Johnson County, outside of Kansas City, and the rest of the largely rural state.

Other states have been long dominated by a single party without developing such intense divisions. Loomis suggests in Kansas the rift is largely a battle between businessmen, such as farmers and bankers — who look to the GOP to support the private sector — and those mostly focused on promoting a socially conservative agenda.

“Indeed, the business community is often looked down on at least as much as Democrats,” Loomis says.

Sen. Roberts has a simpler explanation. “It's in the water,” he jokes.

[7] For background, see Michael Smith, “Kansas, the Three-Party State,” Campaigns & Elections, October-November 2003, p. 36.

Go to top



Gould, Lewis L. , Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans , Random House, 2003. The University of Texas historian concludes that contemporary Republicans have rejected the ideas of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Eisenhower in an embrace of conservatism.

Greenberg, Stanley B. , The Two Americas: Our Current Political Deadlock and How to Break It , Thomas Dunne Books, 2004. The Democratic pollster examines today's competing voting blocs and lays out the best cases each major party can make in seeking to win over the public.

Reichley, A. James , The Life of the Parties: A History of American Political Parties , Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. A fellow at the Public Policy Institute explains the cyclical nature of majority-party dominance and concludes with a survey of how national, state and local parties have adapted to their changing roles in contemporary times.

White, John Kenneth , The Values Divide: American Culture and Politics in Transition , Chatham House, 2003. A Catholic University political science professor details how the cultural rift between Americans produced the tied 2000 election and predicts that it will continue to shape electoral politics for years to come.

Witcover, Jules , Party of the People: A History of the Democrats , Random House, 2003. In this companion to Gould (above), the veteran journalist portrays the Democratic Party as always on the side of economic and social justice against moneyed interests represented by a parade of competing parties.


“Eatanswill Revisited — America's Election,” The Economist , Jan. 31, 2004, Special Report, p. 1. The British magazine concludes that with the parties at even strength and competing strictly on turnout, partisanship will become sharper.

Barone, Michael , “The 49 Percent Nation,” National Journal , June 9, 2001. An influential article notes the varying partisanship of different regions and argues that religion separates voters more than any other factor.

Cochran, John , “Disorder in the House — and No End in Sight,” CQ Weekly , April 3, 2004, p. 790. Although Democrats say the GOP is high-handed, the partisan rancor has been brought about by bad deeds by both sides.

Cochran, John , “Legislative Season Drawn in Solid Party Lines,” CQ Weekly , Jan. 3, 2004, p. 10. A journalistic analysis of partisan votes in Congress shows that Congress was more polarized in 2003 than at any other time in the past 50 years.

Cohen, Richard E., Kirk Victor and David Baumann , “The State of Congress,” National Journal , Jan. 10, 2004, p. 82. The authors examine a dozen trends in congressional behavior and conclude that the institution of Congress has weakened in the decade since Republicans took control, but they trace many of the trends back to Democratic days.

Goldberg, Jonah , “Division Diversions,” National Review Online , Feb. 5, 2004, The conservative columnist says all presidents in this era are divisive because they symbolize different stances in the culture wars, but that Democratic complaints about a divided America are overblown.

Kuttner, Robert , “America as a One-Party State,” The American Prospect , Feb. 1, 2004, p. 18. The liberal magazine editor argues that Republicans are gaming the rules in Congress and the courts not only to push their agenda but also to preserve their majority.

Samuelson, Robert J. , “Polarization Myths . . .,” The Washington Post , Dec. 3, 2003, p. A29. The economics columnist argues that talk of Americans being polarized today is off the mark, especially compared to the civil rights and Vietnam eras.

Reports and Studies

Evenly Divided and Increasingly Polarized: 2004 Political Landscape, The Pew Research Center for The People & The Press, Nov. 5, 2003. The independent polling organization determines that the national unity prompted by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has evaporated over a partisan divide centered on the war in Iraq and differing views about the role of business and the social safety net.

Go to top

The Next Step


Babington, Charles , “Hey, They're Taking Slash-and-Burn to Extremes!” The Washington Post , Dec. 21, 2003, p. B1. Republicans hope their tough tactics will ensure their majority status; given the ill will it's causing, Sen. John McCain says they'd better be right.

Calmes, Jackie , “Us vs. Them Rules American Politics,” The Wall Street Journal , Dec. 1, 2003, p. A4. As polarizing political partisanship increases in Congress, even the old cross-party friendships between members are discouraged by party bosses.

Lewis, Neil A. , “Where the Gloves Are Nearly Always Off,” The New York Times , Oct. 28, 2003, p. A19. The Senate Judiciary Committee is a prime example of both the politicization of the judicial nomination process and the rancor between Democrats and Republicans.

Stolberg, Sheryl Gay , “The High Costs of Rising Incivility on Capitol Hill,” The New York Times , Nov. 30, 2003, Section 4, p. 10. Thomas Jefferson wrote rules of civility for Congress, but today's members are prone to bending them.

Divided Nation

“A Portrait in Red and Blue — American Politics,” The Economist , Jan. 3, 2004. The differences between the congressional districts of Dennis Hastert and Nancy Pelosi represent the cultural and political divide between the “red” and “blue” states.

Broder, David , “Tight Race for a Divided Nation,” The Washington Post , March 3, 2004, p. A1. Pundits agree that the ferocity of both Republicans and Democrats will guarantee a close, hard-fought race in November.

Brownstein, Ronald , “Survey Finds Americans Are Increasingly Divided,” Los Angeles Times , Nov. 6, 2003, p. A20. The national unity generated by 9/11 has disappeared, says a survey showing that the political chasm separating Americans from each other is wider than ever.

Jenkins, Jeffery , “Fed Up With Partisan Politics? Welcome Back to Good Old Days,” Chicago Tribune , Sept. 28, 2003, Perspective Section, p. 6. Concerns about increasing levels of partisanship often ignore America's political history; until World War II, extreme partisanship was the norm.

Kotkin, Joel , “Red, Blue and . . . So 17th Century,” The Washington Post , March 28, 2004, p. B1. America's cultural divide parallels the split between England's Roundheads and Cavaliers; growth is concentrated in the conservative Roundhead regions.

Kotkin, Joel, and Karen Speicher , “Parting Souls,” Los Angeles Times , May 11, 2003, Part M, p. 1. The cultural divide extends even to religion; American clergy are often considerably to the left of their parishioners.

Samuelson, Robert J. , “Polarization Myths . . . ,” The Washington Post , Dec. 3, 2003, p. A29. The author argues political and cultural polarization isn't as bad as the media make it out to be; overheated rhetoric and exaggerations are a political strategy.

Sterngold, James , “Culture War Being Reshaped,” San Francisco Chronicle , Feb. 29, 2004, p. A1. Although society still seems bitterly divided, in many cases the culture wars are shaped by the gradual retreat of conservative positions.

Von Drehle, David , “Political Split Is Pervasive,” The Washington Post , April 25, 2004, p. A1. Birds of a feather flock together, and people increasingly choose their neighborhoods and news sources in a way that reinforces their political views.

Effects of Partisanship

“Politics as Warfare,” The Economist , Nov. 8, 2003. As American politics becomes more akin to warfare, politicians are more likely to reach for political “weapons of mass destruction,” like Bill Clinton's impeachment.

Dann, Joanne , “Safe But Sorry,” The Washington Post , Dec. 2, 2001, p. B1. Hard-line candidates in districts rendered totally secure for their party by gerrymandering have no need to consider other viewpoints.

Farrell, John , “Rancor Becomes Top D.C. Export,” The Denver Post , May 26, 2003, p. A1. Quoting prominent GOP strategist Grover Norquist, who equates bipartisanship with “date rape” and calls for more “bitter nastiness and partisanship” beyond the Beltway, Farrell describes a 20-year campaign by the GOP to take control of state legislatures and defeat or marginalize moderates in both parties through partisan redistricting.

Rogers, David , “Gloves Come Off in Fight to Control Courts,” The Wall Street Journal , Oct. 30, 2003, p. A4. Judges' important role in setting policy means that the partisan rancor over appointing judges to the bench is likely to continue.

Electoral Conflict

Balz, Dan, and Jim VandeHei , “Candidates Narrow Focus to 18 States,” The Washington Post , March 15, 2004, p. A1. With most states already a lock for one side or the other, the presidential campaign hinges on the states won or lost by a few percentage points in 2000.

Green, Joshua , “In Search of the Elusive Swing Voter,” The Atlantic Monthly , Jan./Feb. 2004, p. 102. The need to target the limited number of swing voters in a small number of states means that in many respects the actual identity of the Democratic candidate is irrelevant.

Judis, John B. Ruy Teixeira , and , “Majority Rules,” The New Republic , Aug. 5, 2002, p. 18. Cultural and demographic trends in the coming years will transform the American political landscape: A progressive Democratic majority will dominate politics.

Milbank, Dana , “A Move to Satisfy Conservative Base,” The Washington Post , Feb. 25, 2004, p. A1. As the culture wars heat up over gay marriage, President Bush is forced to secure his base and announce his support for an amendment banning gay marriage.

Purnick, Joyce , “Data Churners Try to Pinpoint Voters' Politics,” The New York Times , April 7, 2004, p. A1. Both political parties maintain massive databases of information on millions of voters in hopes of predicting how people will vote.

Sullivan, Amy , “Do the Democrats Have a Prayer?” Washington Monthly , June 2003, p. 30. The Democrats need to get religion to win elections; they can and have fielded religious candidates, like Jimmy Carter, successfully.

Whitman, Christie , “The Vital Republican Center,” The New York Times , Jan. 12, 2004, p. A23. The former GOP governor argues that Republicans must reach out to moderates in order to become a true majority party.

President Bush

Benedetto, Richard, and Judy Keen , “Love Him or Loathe Him: Electorate Polarized Over Bush,” USA Today , March 10, 2004, p. 4A. The divided opinion over President Bush is razor sharp; the gap in approval of the president between voters of different parties is bigger than ever before.

Cook, Charlie , “Polarizer-in-Chief,” National Journal , April 3, 2004. With solid support from Republicans and just as solid opposition from Democrats, President Bush's support level fluctuates within a narrow band, with little room to grow or shrink.

Hamburger, Tom, and Greg Hitt , “Bush Hardball Leaves Bruises,” The Wall Street Journal , Dec. 5, 2003, p. A4. Brass-knuckled tactics used by the Bush administration in dealing with critics of either party are a reflection of the increasingly bitter conflict in Washington.

Jenkins, Jeffery A. , “Ideologically, Bush Is Right of Center, But Not Extreme Right,” Chicago Tribune , March 7, 2004, Perspective Section, p. 3. A political scientist's assessment of President Bush's place on the political spectrum finds him only slightly more conservative than his moderate father.

Kurtz, Howard , “A Dislike Unlike Any Other?” The Washington Post , Oct. 19, 2003, p. D1. The feelings of many prominent commentators on the left toward President Bush are so negative that even seeing him or hearing his name is painful.

Go to top


American Enterprise Institute
1150 17th St., N.W., Washington, DC 20036
(202) 862-5800
One of the nation's largest think tanks, promoting limited government, private enterprise and a strong national defense.

Brookings Institution
1775 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20036
(202) 797-6000
An independent think tank that focuses on economics, foreign policy and governance.

Center for Politics
University of Virginia, 2400 Old Ivy Rd., Charlottesville, VA 22904
(434) 243-8468
Promotes civic education and participation.

Democratic National Committee
430 South Capitol St., S.E., Washington, DC 20003
(202) 863-8000
The national party organization for Democrats serves as an umbrella for state parties.

Heritage Foundation
214 Massachusetts Ave., N.E., Washington DC 20002
(202) 546-4400
A conservative think tank that promotes free enterprise and limited government.

Pew Research Center for The People & The Press
1150 18th St., N.W., Suite 975, Washington, DC 20036
(202) 293-3126
A foundation-sponsored polling organization.

Progressive Policy Institute
600 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E., Suite 400, Washington, DC 20003
(202) 546-0007
A moderate Democratic think tank affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council.

Republican National Committee
310 1st St., S.E., Washington, DC 20003
(202) 863-8500
The GOP's national headquarters.

Go to top


[1] Quoted in John Aloysius Farrell, “Rancor becomes top D.C. export; GOP leads charge in ideological war,” Denver Post, May 26, 2003.

[2] Kenneth Jost and Gregory L. Giroux, “Electoral College,” The CQ Researcher, Dec. 8, 2000, pp. 977-1008.

[3] Jeffrey M. Jones, “Public Divided on Bush,” The Gallup Organization, March 10, 2004,

[4] For background, see Kenneth Jost, “Redistricting Disputes,” The CQ Researcher, March 12, 2004, pp. 221-248.

[5] John Cochran, “Legislative Season Drawn in Solid Party Lines,” CQ Weekly, Jan. 3, 2004, p. 10.

[6] Marc J. Hetherington, “Resurgent Mass Partisanship: The Role of Elite Polarization,” American Political Science Review, September 2001, p. 628.

[7] The Pew Research Center for The People & The Press, “Three-in-Ten Voters Open to Persuasion,” March 3, 2004,

[8] To see map, go to

[9] The address can be found at

[10] James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn, George Washington (2004), p. 116.

[11] Quoted in Jules Witcover, The Party of the People (2003), p. 60.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Marvin Meyers, The Jacksonian Persuasion (1957), p. 15.

[14] Witcover, op. cit., p. 204.

[15] Lewis L. Gould, Grand Old Party (2003), p. 127.

[16] Stanley B. Greenberg, The Two Americas (2004), p. 36.

[17] For background, see Alan Greenblatt, “Race in America,” The CQ Researcher, July 11, 2003, pp. 593-624.

[18] Ibid., p. 46, and Gould, op. cit., p. 377.

[19] Jonathan Allen, “John Rhodes, House GOP Leader Noted for Advising Nixon to Quit, Dies of Cancer at Age 86,” CQ Weekly, Aug. 30, 2003, p. 2099.

[20] Ibid., p. 420.

[21] Dan Balz and Jim VandeHei, “Candidates Narrow Focus to 18 States,” The Washington Post, March 15, 2004, p. A1.

[22] Greenberg, op. cit., p. 95.

[23] Ibid., p. 118.

[24] Ruy Teixeira, “Emerging Democrats,” Prospect, Feb. 26, 2004.

[25] Ronald Brownstein, “Attendance, Not Affiliation, Key to Religious Voters,” Los Angeles Times, July 16, 2001, p. 10.

[26] Quoted in Nicholas Lemann, “The Controller,” The New Yorker, May 12, 2003, p. 68.

[27] Bill Sammon, “ 'Culture Wars' Shaping Election,” The Washington Times, March 25, 2004, p. A1.

[28] For background, see David Masci, “Latinos' Future,” The CQ Researcher, Oct. 17, 2003, pp. 869-892; Kenneth Jost, “Testing in Schools,” The CQ Researcher, April 20, 2001, pp. 321-344; and Adriel Bettelheim, “Medicare Reform, The CQ Researcher, Aug. 22, 2003, pp. 673-696.

[29] Quoted in Lemann, op. cit.

[30] “Q&A With Bob Levey,”, Sept. 16, 2003,

[31] For background, see Richard E. Cohen, “Could Lightning Strike?” National Journal, March 27, 2004, p. 970, and Jost, “Redistricting Disputes,” op. cit.

[32] Jost, ibid., p. 257.

[33] Lemann, op. cit., p. 68.

[34] Philip Gourevitch, “The Shakeout,” The New Yorker, Feb. 9, 2004, p. 28.

[35] John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira, The Emerging Democratic Majority (2004).

[36] Alan Greenblatt, “The Politics of Parity,” Governing, January 2002, p. 20.

[37] Thomas B. Edsall, “Census a Clarion Call for Democrats, GOP,” The Washington Post, July 8, 2001, p. A5.

[38] Barone, Michael, “The 49 Percent Nation,” National Journal, June 9, 2001.

[39] William Schneider, “Bush's Vanished Capital,” National Journal, March 27, 2004, p. 996.

Go to top

Document APA Citation
Greenblatt, A. (2004, April 30). The partisan divide. CQ Researcher, 14, 373-396. Retrieved from
Document ID: cqresrre2004043000
Document URL:
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Political Parties
Oct. 13, 2017  Future of the Democratic Party
Sep. 09, 2016  Populism and Party Politics
Nov. 14, 2014  Nonprofit Groups and Partisan Politics
Oct. 24, 2014  Future of the GOP
Feb. 28, 2014  Polarization in America
Mar. 19, 2010  Tea Party Movement Updated
Mar. 20, 2009  Future of the GOP
Jun. 08, 2007  Democrats in Congress
Apr. 30, 2004  The Partisan Divide
Dec. 22, 1995  Third-Party Prospects
Jan. 11, 1985  Post-1984 Political Landscape
Nov. 09, 1984  Democratic Revival in South America
Sep. 14, 1984  Election 1984
Dec. 19, 1980  Future of the Democratic Party
Sep. 29, 1978  New Right in American Politics
Jan. 04, 1974  Future of Conservatism
May 03, 1972  The New Populism
Feb. 02, 1956  Foreign Policy in Political Campaigns
Dec. 22, 1954  Divided Government
Aug. 04, 1952  Two-Party System
Jun. 06, 1952  Party Platforms
Sep. 05, 1951  Southern Democrats and the 1952 Election
Oct. 06, 1948  Voting in 1948
Aug. 27, 1948  Republicans and Foreign Policy
Jul. 16, 1947  Third Party Movements
Aug. 22, 1940  Political Realignments
Jan. 13, 1938  The G. O. P. and the Solid South
Jul. 22, 1936  Third Party Movements in American Politics
Jul. 07, 1936  The Monopoly Issue in Party Politics
Nov. 12, 1935  Party Platforms and the 1936 Campaign
May 18, 1934  Political Trends and New Party Movements
Jan. 13, 1932  National Party Platforms, 1832–1932
May 16, 1928  Third Party Movements
Jan. 21, 1928  Major Party Platforms 1924–1928
Nov. 14, 1924  The Election and the Third Party
Sep. 05, 1924  Party Claims and Past Political Complexion of the States
Jun. 25, 1924  Third Party Platforms
Jun. 18, 1924  Thrid Parties: Past and Prospective
Party Politics
Party Politics
No comments on this report yet.
Comment on this Report