Why race and identity will remain the dividing line in American politics for a while to come
Writing yesterday about how race and identity has become the central dividing line in American politics, I argued that we are likely to have a politics dominated by race and identity for the near-term future.
This is a big claim, so I want to spend some time here explaining why I believe this is our near-term future, and what it might mean for how American politics will function.
The short version of the explanation is that race and identity is now the main issue holding both parties’ coalitions together, which means that neither party’s leadership has a strong incentive to try to make politics about anything else. The short version of the implication is that most likely this will reduce polarization, because it splits the parties on economic issues and thus creates a whole new set of cross-party coalitions. However, there are ways in which it could also fundamentally tear our nation apart.
Seeing politics in two dimensions
In yesterday’s post, I spent a while discussing the two-dimensional nature of conflict, borrowing an analysis from the political scientist E.E. Schattschneider and drawing on related insights from Gary Miller and Norman Schofield on how activist groups within parties affect realignment dynamics.
The quick foundational point from the post is that American political opinion is two-dimensional, and those two dimensions tend to be organized around two types of issues, economic and social/identity issues. For most people, the correlation between their beliefs on the two issues is actually quite low. And here’s the big takeaway: Depending on which issue is the primary dividing line, the party system can look quite different.