Politics & Polls #21: Asymmetric Politics

Nov 17 2016
By Julian Zelizer & Sam Wang (Produced by B. Rose Kelly and Edited by Bonelys Rosado)
Source Woodrow Wilson School

Political polarization is the worst it’s been since the Civil War, some experts argue. How did we get here? How have America’s ideologies shifted so much in the past four decades? What forces underlie the growing divide between Republicans and Democrats? And how has social media and varying sources of information widened the gap?

In episode 21, professors Julian Zelizer and Sam Wang discuss party polarization with Matt Grossmann and David Hopkins, co-authors of the new book, “Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats.” Published by Oxford University Press, the book provides a new understanding of contemporary polarization.

Grossmann and Hopkins show how Republicans are more ideological, gaining public support by pledging their loyalty to broad values, while Democrats are more interested in special interest groups, appealing to voters’ group identities and interests through the endorsement of certain policies. The result: two parties that think differently, argue past one another, rely on completely different sources of information and pursue divergent governmental goals.

Grossmann is director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research and associate professor of political science at Michigan State University. Grossmann’s research is focused on American politics and policymaking, especially interest group representation and influence, political parties, political networks, campaigns and policy change.

Hopkins is an assistant professor of political science at Boston College. His research and teaching interests include American political parties and elections, the U.S. Congress, voting behavior, public opinion and research methods. 


Zelizer is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 
Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He has been one of the pioneers in the revival of American political history. He is the author of several books including, most recently, "The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society." Zelizer is a frequent commentator in the international and national media on political history and contemporary politics. He has published more than 600 hundred op-eds, including his weekly column on CNN.com

Wang is professor of neuroscience and molecular biology at Princeton University. He is known for his books "Welcome to Your Brain" and "Welcome to Your Child's Brain" and for his founding role at the Princeton Election Consortium, a blog providing U.S. election analyses. In 2004, Wang was one of the first to aggregate U.S. presidential polls using probabilistic methods. In 2012, his statistical analysis correctly predicted the presidential vote outcome in 49 of 50 states. He has also developed new statistical standards for partisan gerrymandering. A neuroscientist, Wang's academic research focuses on the neuroscience of learning, the cerebellum and autism.