Is Gridlock Worse Today Than It Was In The 1990s?

October 24th, 2014

Is it the case that gridlock is worse today than during the Clinton years? The Times has a feature that shows how partisanship has increased over the last 20 years.

Congressional Republicans, of course, have also refused to reach across the aisle and work with Mr. Obama the way they did in Mr. Lott’s era. The current Congress is on track to become one of the least legislatively productive in recent history. That is partly because Mr. Obama faces a far more polarized electorate than Mr. Clinton did.

Over the past 20 years, the number of Americans who hold extreme conservative or liberal views has doubled from 10 percent in 1994 to 21 percent in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. And the middle ground has shrunk, with 39 percent of Americans taking a roughly equal number of liberal and conservative positions, compared with 49 percent in 1994.

The tails are getting fatter, and the middle is getting smaller. There is less room of compromise.

Another factoid to add to this increasing political polarization are numbers concerning “partyism.” As Cass Sunstein explained, today more people would be adverse to their child dating someone of a different political party than of a different.

Researchers have long asked such questions about race, and have found that along important dimensions, racial prejudice is decreasing. At the same time, party prejudice in the U.S. has jumped, infecting not only politics but also decisions about dating, marriage and hiring. By some measures, “partyism” now exceeds racial prejudice — which helps explain the intensity of some midterm election campaigns.

In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said that they would feel “displeased” if their son or daughter married outside their political party. By 2010, those numbers had reached 49 percent and 33 percent. Republicans have been found to like Democrats less than they like people on welfare or gays and lesbians. Democrats dislike Republicans more than they dislike big business.

While I applaud how far we have come on racism, I lament partyism. We live in an increasingly polarized world, and Congress is a manifestation of that.

When partisanship increases, it is no surprise that the members sent to Congress are more polarized, and there is less middle ground for compromise. This is one aspect of gridlock that people are often unfamiliar with–gridlock reflects the populace. If the people don’t agree on how to tackle big problems, then it is totally unsurprising when Congress also cannot agree.