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Party Polarization and "Conflict Extension" in the American Electorate

Geoffrey C. Layman and Thomas M. Carsey
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 46, No. 4 (Oct., 2002), pp. 786-802
DOI: 10.2307/3088434
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3088434
Page Count: 17
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Party Polarization and "Conflict Extension" in the American Electorate
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Abstract

In recent decades, Democratic and Republican party elites have grown increasingly polarized on all three of the major domestic policy agendas: social welfare, racial, and cultural issues. We contend that the mass response has been characterized not by the traditional expectation of "conflict displacement" or the more recent account of "ideological realignment," but by what we term "conflict extension." Mass attitudes toward the three agendas have remained distinct, but the parties in the electorate have grown more polarized on all three. Conflict extension, rather than conflict displacement or ideological realignment, has occurred because there has been a limited mass response to the growth of elite-level party polarization. Only party identifiers who are aware of party elite polarization on each of the issue dimensions have brought their social welfare, racial, and cultural issue attitudes toward the consistently liberal or consistently conservative stands of Democratic and Republican elites. Analyses using data from the 1972 through 2000 National Election Studies support both the aggregate- and individual-level predictions of the conflict extension perspective.

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