E.J. Dionne: Pious wishes won’t change politics

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The U.S. Capitol in Washington.


WASHINGTON — We human beings cling to dogmas long after they’re disproven. We tend to believe things that make us feel better or remind of us of a past that we miss. This is certainly true of our assumptions about electoral politics.

Among the myths that can steer us off course in the Trump era, three are particularly popular.

First, that political polarization is primarily a product of how elites behave and not the result of real divisions in our country.

Second, that a vast group of party-loathing independents can be mobilized by anti-partisan messages.

Third, that Republicans and Democrats are becoming increasingly and equally extreme, so they should be scolded equally.

All these pious wishes are false, as Alan Abramowitz’s latest book, “The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump,” makes clear. He provides a wealth of data in a compact package.

A political scientist at Emory University, Abramowitz is perhaps best known for the idea of “negative partisanship.” It explains a great deal about the fractious nature of our public sphere. “Over the past two decades,” he writes, “the proportion of party supporters … who have strongly negative feelings toward the opposing party has risen sharply. A growing number of Americans have been voting against the opposing party rather than for their own.”

People rate their own side about the same as they used to. On a 100-degree “feeling thermometer,” Americans gave their own party a moderately warm 71 degrees in 1978, and 70…

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