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Journal Article

A Disconnect in Representation? Comparison of Trends in Congressional and Public Polarization

Seth J. Hill and Chris Tausanovitch
The Journal of Politics
Vol. 77, No. 4 (October 2015), pp. 1058-1075
DOI: 10.1086/682398
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/682398
Page Count: 18
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A Disconnect in Representation? Comparison of Trends in Congressional and Public Polarization
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Abstract

While it is widely agreed that Congress has polarized over the past 40 years, there is considerable disagreement about the extent of public polarization and its connection to congressional polarization. We present the first estimation of time series of polarization using the same method on the most comprehensive data for both the public and the Senate. With statistics of various definitions of polarization, we find little increase in the dispersion of views in the public from 1956 to 2012 but do find an increase in ideological sorting starting around 1980. The two time series bear little resemblance to one another with respect to divergence. Further, while congressional sorting exceeds that in the public today, we find that Congress has always been unrepresentative of the public. These results suggest that it is unlikely that changes in public preferences alone explain the widening gulf between the two parties in Congress.

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