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Components of party polarization in the US House of Representatives

Thomas L Brunell, Bernard Grofman and Samuel Merrill
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Thomas L Brunell: School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, The University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, TX, USA
Bernard Grofman: Department of Political Science and Center for the Study of Democracy, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA, USA
Samuel Merrill: Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA

Journal of Theoretical Politics, 2016, vol. 28, issue 4, 598-624

Abstract: We specify the level of polarization in a two-party legislature as an explicit function of three factors: (1) the ideological heterogeneity of district median voters, (2) the distance between candidates of different parties in the same or ideologically comparable districts, and (3) partisan bias in choosing between candidates equidistant from the median voter. Our key empirical finding, reinforced by two alternative methods of calculation, is that, while changes in each factor have contributed to the present day extremely high level polarization in the US House of Representatives, at least 80% of the growth in that polarization from 1956 through 2008 can be attributed to a dramatic increase in the second of these factors: party differentiation at the district level.

Keywords: House of Representatives; ideological heterogeneity; partisan bias; party polarization (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2016
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