Really, Would You Let Your Daughter Marry a Democrat?

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Americans have suddenly gotten suspicious of their children having interparty weddings. That's bad news for an already hyperpolarized nation.

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Kevin Drum

Jim Warren wrote about some heartening research on polarization today. A new paper suggests a greater degree of empathy between partisans than we might expect -- which, Warren writes, offers hope that the U.S. isn't doomed to neverending partisan deadlock.

Now, for a response from the other side.

Via Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, Claude Fischer noted a study that casts a rather more pessimistic light on matters partisan.

A pair of surveys asked Americans a more concrete question: in 1960, whether they would be "displeased" if their child married someone outside their political party, and, in 2010, would be "upset" if their child married someone of the other party. In 1960, about 5 percent of Americans expressed a negative reaction to party intermarriage; in 2010, about 40 percent did (Republicans about 50 percent, Democrats about 30 percent).

That's pretty astounding. Drum helpfully made the chart above. Why Republicans have grown resistant more quickly is unclear, although they've historically tended to have chillier feelings about Democrats than vice versa. For comparison, look at how Americans' attitudes about interracial marriage have changed over roughly the same period:

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The questions aren't quite parallel, but one could probably assume safely that most Americans would rather have their child marry someone of a different color than a different political party. On the one hand, progress!

On the other, of course, this kind of hyperpartisanship is worrisome. The steep increase between 2008 and 2010 is particularly baffling, because -- although we've heard time and again how polarizing Presidents Obama and Bush were -- the average gap between partisans in both parties hasn't seen any such spike. While the difference has increased, the trend is much more consistent:

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Assuming the data are correct -- and with such a weird spike, it might be a statistical anomaly -- it isn't hard to see where this trend leads. Despite the brave Juliet -- or Julia -- Democrats who are willing to wed Romeo Republicans, this sort of attitude is likely to manifest itself in more intraparty marriages. There is already a pattern of increasing segregation by neighborhood in the United States, and once couples in one-party weddings move in together, they're likely to choose a neighborhood with their political fellows -- creating an ever-crescendoing feedback cycle of hyperpartisanship.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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