A Theory to Explain Modern Politics: 'Calcification'

Ezra Klein digs into the phenomenon
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 14, 2022 11:48 AM CST
A Theory to Explain Modern Politics: 'Calcification'
An "I Voted" sticker goes to a voter.   (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

These days, it seems that Democrats will vote for Democrats, and Republicans will vote for Republicans, no matter what happens during the election cycle. This "calcification" of American politics is explored in a New York Times essay by Ezra Klein, who draws from the work of political scientists John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch, and Lynn Vavreck in their new book. Klein points to a stat he finds "shocking"—in 1952, 50% of voters saw a big difference between the two parties, but that figure had risen to 90% by 2020. Decades ago, then, if voters were disillusioned by a particular candidate in their own party, they might consider voting for a rival because the parties weren't seen as so fundamentally different. These days, there's little chance of that.

Meanwhile, a second issue—"parity"—throws another wrench into things. We have roughly a 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats, meaning that even a tiny change in voting patterns has a pronounced effect. "Because politics is so calcified, virtually nothing matters, but because elections are so close, virtually everything matters," writes Klein. Elaborating: "So even as calcification means fewer minds change in any given election, parity means those small, marginal changes can completely alter American politics." His piece explores how these factors help explain the 2016 and 2020 elections. Read the full essay, which also discusses a third theory, "cultural backlash," and how it works in tandem with the other two to explain a great deal about current American politics. (Read more politics stories.)

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