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Terence Samuel: Polarization We Can Believe In

Roundup: Media's Take




[Terence Samuel is deputy editor of the Root.]

Even in politics, things are often exactly what they seem. So it should have been reasonable to dismiss as fiction recent reports that Barack Obama is the most polarizing president in recent history. There is nothing in our experience to support that; based on the president's personal favorability rating and his high job approval numbers, if this is polarization, it is the kind of polarization we want.

Still, it was big news when the very reputable Pew Research Center for the People & the Press concluded, based on the reported results of a recent survey, that: “For all of his hopes about bipartisanship, Barack Obama has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades.”

The Pew results predictably fired up the conservative/Republican ideological message machine, especially Bush White House alumni, unrepentant about the eight years of divisiveness over which they presided. Michael Gerson, Bush's chief speech writer, lamented in his Washington Post column: “... Obama's polarizing approach challenges and changes the core of his political identity. His moderate manner and message appealed to a country weary of division and ambition—a nation now asked to endure another round of both.”...

According to Pew, “The 61-point partisan gap in opinions about Obama's job performance is the result of a combination of high Democratic ratings for the president—88 percent job approval among Democrats—and relatively low approval ratings among Republicans (27 percent).”

The explanation for the growing split in opinion seems pretty simple when you consider what happened in the country over the last two years: The Democratic Party grew; the Republican Party shrunk; a lot of people who were independents and some who used to be Republicans became Democrats. That reduced the Republican Party to a core of only the most ideologically committed and fanatical.

It’s only natural that the increased ideological purity of the GOP would severely reduce the chance that a Democratic president would attract GOP support. The other side of that equation is that in 2006 and 2008, Democrats so successfully marketed themselves as an attractive alternative to the Bush-era GOP that a lot of people not only decided to vote Democratic, they decided to become Democrats. And there was an intensity to those decisions to switch that continues to show up in Obama's approval ratings....
Read entire article at The Root (edited by Henry Louis Gates)

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