Essays on Contemporary American Politics

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The 2016 Presidential Election—Identities, Class, And Culture

by Morris P. Fiorinavia Hoover Institution Press
Thursday, June 22, 2017

In the aggregate the 2016 election returns were similar to those in 2012, but the consequences of the voting were dramatically different. This contrast highlights the fact that in a majoritarian system like that in the United States minor changes in the vote can produce major changes in government control and the public policies that result. Looking ahead, perhaps the most significant feature of the 2016 voting was the reappearance of anti-establishment “populist” sentiments that are roiling the politics of other advanced democracies.

The 2016 Presidential Election—An Abundance Of Controversies

by Morris P. Fiorinavia Hoover Institution Press
Tuesday, April 18, 2017

As the polls universally predicted, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. But contrary to universally held expectations, Donald Trump shocked the political world by breaching the Democrats “blue wall” and winning a majority of the Electoral College.

A Historical Perspective

by Morris P. Fiorinavia Hoover Institution Press
Wednesday, November 2, 2016

In the first essay of this series I pointed out that contemporary electoral instability resembles the electorally chaotic late nineteenth century period after the return of the Confederate states to the Union.

American Flags

Is The US Experience Exceptional?

by Morris P. Fiorinavia Hoover Institution Press
Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Research by European scholars clearly answers yes. Their studies paint a picture that is the mirror image of that in the United States. The political class in European democracies is depolarizing and/or de-sorting.

The (Re)Nationalization Of Congressional Elections

by Morris P. Fiorinavia Hoover Institution Press
Wednesday, October 19, 2016

In the second half of the twentieth century, elections for the presidency, House, and Senate exhibited a great deal of independence, but the outcomes of congressional elections today are much more closely aligned with those of presidential elections.

Independents: The Marginal Members Of An Electoral Coalition

by Morris P. Fiorinavia Hoover Institution Press
Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Currently, the party balance in the United States is nearly even, roughly one-third Democratic, one-third Republican, and one-third independent, taking turnout into account.

The Temptation To Overreach

by Morris P. Fiorinavia Hoover Institution Press
Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Today’s parties succumb to the temptation to overreach when in control of an institution. By overreach I mean simply that they attempt to govern in a manner that alienates the marginal members of their electoral majority.

Political dialogue, Andrzej Dudzinski

Party Sorting And Democratic Politics

by Morris P. Fiorinavia Hoover Institution Press
Wednesday, September 28, 2016

This essay is more qualitative than the two previous data-heavy essays. It considers the larger consequences of party sorting for the conduct of American politics.

US Political Parties

The Political Parties Have Sorted

by Morris P. Fiorinavia Hoover Institution Press
Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Although the American public at large has not polarized, it is better sorted than a generation ago. Whereas the parties were once “big tents,” they are now ideologically more homogeneous: liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats have largely disappeared.

Has The American Public Polarized?

by Morris P. Fiorinavia Hoover Institution Press
Wednesday, September 14, 2016

With the presidential campaigns well under way, talk of polarization once again fills the air. Although Americans think that polarization has increased, that is a misperception. By the standard definition of polarization—the middle loses to the extremes—there is no evidence of increasing polarization among the public at large.


In contrast to most of modern American political history, partisan control of our national elective institutions has been unusually tenuous during the past several decades. This essay series argues that the ideologically sorted parties that contest elections today face strong internal pressures to overreach, by which I mean emphasizing issues and advocating positions strongly supported by the party base but which cause the marginal members of their electoral coalitions to defect. Thus, electoral losses predictably follow electoral victories. Institutional control is fleeting.

The first group of essays describes the contemporary American electorate. Despite myriad claims to the contrary, the data show that the electorate is no more polarized now than it was in the later decades of the twentieth century. What has happened is that the parties have sorted so that each party is more homogeneous than in the twentieth century; liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats have largely passed from the political scene. The muddled middle is as large as ever but has no home in either party. The growth in the proportion of self-identified independents may be a reflection of the limited appeal of today’s sorted parties.

The second group of essays develops the overreach argument, discusses the role of independents as the marginal members of an electoral majority, and explains how party sorting produces less split-ticket voting. Rather than most voters being more set in their partisan allegiances than a generation ago, they may simply have less reason to split their tickets when almost all Democratic candidates are liberals and all Republican candidates are conservatives.

The third group of essays embeds contemporary American politics in two other contexts. First, in a comparative context, developments in the European democracies are the mirror image of those in the United States: the major European parties have depolarized or de-sorted or both, whereas their national electorates show little change. The rise of anti-immigrant parties may have some as yet not well-understood role in these developments. Second, in a historical context, the instability of American majorities today resembles that of the late nineteenth century, when similar significant social and economic changes were occurring.

A final postelection essay will wrap up the series.