More Polarized Than Ever?

by Patrick Appel

John Sides is skeptical:

I am...unsure whether contemporary politics is really characterized by more anger or intolerance for the opposition or what have you. I don’t know what the appropriate comparison would be, but thinking back, it strikes me that these qualities are somewhat endemic. Sure, accusations about Obama’s birthplace seem angry and extreme, but more so than accusations that the Clintons murdered people? Or that Thomas Jefferson was a “howling atheist,” according to some Federalists? My anecdotes don’t qualify as data, obviously. But it is tricky to come up with measures that would show American politics to be more “polarized,” even by this expanded definition. Of course, ideological polarization is evident among elites. But other possible measures of this expanded definition e.g., the negativity of political campaigns suggest no conclusive answer. (Compare the findings of John Geer to those of Lee and Emmett Buell.)