Political polarization approaches crisis level

In the early 1980s the proportion of moderates in Congress dropped below 40 percent for the first time in the post-war era, and by the late 1990s it had fallen below 20 percent. Today less than 10 percent of the members of Congress can be called moderates on a liberal-conservative scale.

Students of public opinion have observed a similar pattern among voters: They are now sharply polarized, express strong dislike for the opposing party and its voters, and do not trust the government to enact policies in the public interest.

In addition, the various states in the union have moved in opposite political directions, some becoming safe havens for Democrats and others for Republicans. It would be easy to point to other measures of increased polarization. A polarized and distrustful political system will never yield the compromises needed to address the serious problems the country is now facing.

It is true that President Obama achieved some victories in this polarized environment, but at a high cost to his popularity and the Democratic Party’s standing in Congress. In addition, some of his signal achievements — such as his health care bill and the nuclear treaty with Iran — will be reversed as soon as a Republican president is elected.