Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches
The past 25 years in the United States have been marked by growing income inequality, increasing political divisions and rising immigration. A 2006 Princeton University study, “Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches,” looks at possible connections between these trends.
The study’s results, published in The Journal of Politics and subsequently published as a book, were based on states’ political attitudes, income inequality levels and votes by senators and congressional representatives from the early 1970s to the mid-2000s. Other data examined included public opinion polls, census data and campaign finance records.
The findings include:
- Polarization and income inequality fell in tandem from 1913 to 1957 and partisan divisions became increasingly blurred. From 1977 on, both political divisions and income inequality grew simultaneously.
- As a state’s income inequality rises, the congressional voting patterns become more partisan — Republicans shift to farther right, while Democrats move to the left.
- Citizens with strong partisan identifications are more likely to apply ideological labels to themselves and are the most likely to define politics in ideological terms.
- Higher-income citizens are more likely to identify with and vote for Republicans than are lower-income voters, a consequence of the party’s increasing embrace of economic libertarian positions.
- Rising immigration has facilitated the move to the right. While noncitizens are a larger share of the population, they cannot vote. “This has the effect of moving the median income voter closer to the mean income citizen, reducing the demand for [income] redistribution,” the author states.
In summary, the author writes, “High levels of income inequality generate high levels of political polarization in state electorates, and both income inequality and political polarization exhibit a strong influence on partisan polarization.”
Read the issue-related New York Times magazine article titled "State Gains Would Give Redistricting Edge to G.O.P."
- If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?
Read the full study titled "Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.