Another departure from pure science, but some interesting data visualization from a study published last week. Each dot is a single member of the House of Representatives (democrats = blue, republicans = red). The proximity and lines between dots indicates cooperation - voting the same way on legislation. The more they vote the same way, the thicker the connecting lines and the closer the dots.

Here’s How We Can Bring People Together on the Abortion Debate

By focusing on “red states” and regional culture, Take Root has managed to create a space to talk divisive issues without the typical divisiveness. By expanding the conversation from just abortion to reproductive justice, they are able to create a space where advocates from several different fields can work together, rather than treating justice as a zero sum game. They explain their focus on reproductive justice as “the right to have children, not to have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments.” This allows participants to “see the connections between poverty and food access in rural and urban environments, histories of coercive sterilization of women of color, the disparity in impacts of criminalization of drugs and its effects on families, gender self-determination and gender violence, and access to contraception, transition services, sexual health and consent information.” They even had sessions on climate change!

Conservatives, Liberals and the News

A new Pew Research study exploring US political polarization neatly captures what’s long been known: political partisans occupy filter bubbles with their own distinct set of news sources.

Some takeaways. “Consistent” conservatives:

  • Are tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than any other group in the survey, with 47% citing Fox News as their main source for news about government and politics.
  • Express greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, fully 88% of consistent conservatives trust Fox News.
  • Are, when on Facebook, more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions that are in line with their own views.
  • Are more likely to have friends who share their own political views. Two-thirds (66%) say most of their close friends share their views on government and politics.

On the other side of the spectrum, “consistent” liberals:

  • Are less unified in their media loyalty; they rely on a greater range of news outlets, including some – like NPR and the New York Times– that others use far less.
  • Express more trust than distrust of 28 of the 36 news outlets in the survey. NPR, PBS and the BBC are the most trusted news sources for consistent liberals.
  • Are more likely than those in other ideological groups to block or “defriend” someone on a social network – as well as to end a personal friendship – because of politics.
  • Are more likely to follow issue-based groups, rather than political parties or candidates, in their Facebook feeds.

Is there any common ground? Just a bit. Both consistent conservatives and consistent liberals follow governmental and political news more closely than other groups.

Pew identifies five ideological groups in the study: consistent liberals, mostly liberals, mixed, mostly conservatives and consistent conservatives. While those in the ideological middle expose themselves to the widest variety of information sources, they do not focus on politics as often as partisan news consumers which Pew reports is about 20% of the country.

Pew Research, Political Polarization & Media Habits.

Image: Primary news sources for liberals and conservatives, via Pew (PDF)

Six decades of increasing partisanship in the U.S. House of Representatives.

By Lisa Wade, PhD

It sure seems like U.S. Democrats and Republicans are less likely to cooperate than they have been in the past and now, thanks to geographer Clio Andris and her colleagues, we can see that it’s true. They plotted six decades of voting in the House of Representatives, noting the likelihood that their vote will cross party lines.

This is your image of the week:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The parties have become so dominant in determining how individual members of Congress vote that it doesn’t really matter what the issue is. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about a stimulus plan, a budget, a confirmation of a Supreme Court justice – on almost every major issue now, all the Democrats are on one side; all the Republicans are on the other side. And it’s obvious that they’re not really analyzing the issue in terms of what information they’ve been able to get, what their own analysis is – but, ‘Where does my party stand? Because my goal here is to be true to my party, to defeat the other party. ’ And there is no way that you can actually manage a government of 300 million people with people in Congress or in state legislatures as well, who are unable and unwilling to really look at the issues in front of them, figure out what needs to be done and take the oath of office seriously.

Mickey Edwards on the negative influence of parties on American politics

But whichever side emerges victorious, both Republicans and Democrats should face up to a much bigger truth: Neither party as currently constituted has a real future.

Fewer and fewer Americans identify as either Republican or Democratic according to Gallup, and both parties are at recent or all-time lows when it comes to approval ratings. Just 39 percent give Democrats a favorable rating and just 33 percent do the same for Republicans. Not coincidentally, each party has also recently had a clear shot at implementing its vision of the good society.

If you want to drive down your adversary’s approval rating, just give him the reins of power for a few years.
Nothing More Evil | David Swanson

Not long ago, I attended a speech by Obama, along with thousands of his adoring cheerleaders formerly known as citizens. I asked him to stop killing people in Afghanistan, and the Secret Service asked me to leave. But, just now, I got a phone call from the local Obama office. They had my name because I’d picked up a ticket to attend the speech. The young woman wanted to know if I would come help phone other people. I asked if she was familiar with the president’s kill list and his policy of killing men, women, and children with drones. She said she knew nothing about that but “respected my opinion.” She hung up. Objecting to presidential murder is now an opinion, and willingness to be aware of its existence is an appendage to the opinion. If you don’t object to presidential murder by Democrat, then you simply arrange not to know about it. Thus, in your opinion, it doesn’t exist.

Some of my friends at this moment are in Pakistan apologizing to its government and its people for the endless murderous drone war fought there by our country. They’re meeting with victims’ families. They’re speaking publicly in opposition to the crimes of our government. And my neighbors, living in some other universe, believe most fundamentally, not that one candidate will save us, not that the two parties are fundamentally opposed, not that a citizen’s job is to vote, not that war is all right if it’s meant well – although they clearly believe all of those things – but, most fundamentally, they believe that unpleasant facts should simply be avoided.

[…] If you try to think of something more evil than what we are now doing, you’ll fail. Name your evil: destroying the earth’s climate? President Barack Obama flew to Copenhagen to single-handedly derail any process for protecting the earth’s atmosphere. The only way in which to fantasize about greater evil is quantitative, not qualitative. We could drop more bombs. We could starve more children. We could experiment on more prisoners. In fact, this is what Lesser Evilism amounts to. A Lesser Evilist today is not choosing less evil policies, but the same policies in what he or she hopes will be lesser amounts.

That might be a rational calculation within a polling place. But living it prior to and after an election, apologizing and cheering for one of two teams, as if self-governance were a spectator sport, is nothing other than complicity in the most hideous forms of cruelty and murder. That complicity is insidious. Evil begins to look like something else, because the Lesser Evilist, within his or her own mind, comes to view the Lesser Evil forces as good, if not glorious, if not saintly.

All that is of concern to the people of this great country today is that we begin pulling together. We’re not a country that does well divided; we’re a country that likes to work united. It is unnatural for America to be divided as it is today.

— Jon Huntsman

What’s motivating partisans to vote in this climate? For too many of them, it’s not high-minded, good-government, issue-based goals. It’s, ‘I hate the other party. I’m going to go out, and we’re going to beat them.’

Patrick Miller of the University of Kansas, who coauthored a new study which found that many Democrats and Republicans engage with electoral politics not because they care about the issues but because they have a sense of team rivalry very similar to sports fans:

Using data from the 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, which identified strong and weak partisans and independents on a seven-point range, Miller and Conover’s research found that 65 percent of partisans valued their team’s victory as much or more than political convictions. Fewer than 15 percent of Democrats and Republicans believed their rivals possessed “core moral traits,” and 38 percent of both sides were willing to “use any tactics necessary,” including violence and fraud, to win an election. Rivalry increased with age, and the “more partisans are hostile and lean toward incivility, the more active they are politically.”


A House Divided

A lobbying firm took data from the National Journal’s annual congressional voter ratings to compare liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. From top to bottom, we have 1982 to 2013.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza attributes the polarization to redistricting, with the parties effectively creating safe voting districts. But, as he points out, the Senate is equally partisan:

More intriguing – and harder to explain – is how the middle has dropped out of the Senate, which is not subject to redistricting. Because senators represent entire states, self-sorting should be less powerful…

…[M]ore than half of the Senate fit between the most liberal Republican and the most conservative Democrat in 1982. For the last two years, there has not been a single Republican with a more liberal voting record than any Democrat and not a single Democrat with a more conservative voting record than any Republican. Not one.

Cillizza does the math: In 1982, 75 percent of congress fell into an ideological middle. Today, .7 percent does. Read through for the rest and to view the Senate chart.