We can't even agree on what's tearing us apart

For Converse, such a system suggested that if “an individual holds a specified attitude, he holds certain further ideas and attitudes.” For example, “If a person is opposed to the expansion of Social Security, he is probably a conservative and is probably opposed as well to any nationalization of private industries, federal aid to education, sharply progressive income taxation, and so forth.” Converse called voters who fit this description “ideologues.”

At the time he was writing, Converse noted, only three and a half percent of voters could be described as “ideologues,” another 12 percent as “near ideologues,” and the remaining 84.5 percent cast their ballots on the basis of whether their group would benefit, the state of the economy or, in Converse’s words, “no issue content.”

Now, nearly six decades later, the issue is not the lack of an ideological and partisan electorate, but the dominance of polarized elected officials and voters, some driven by conviction, others by a visceral dislike of the opposition, and still others by both.

This turbulence has proved to be a gold mine for scholars seeking to find order in the disorder.

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