Congress is currently more partisan and polarized than any other time since the Reconstruction. Over the past three decades there has been an eruption of partisan politics that has increased the division between both parties in the House and the Senate. Sean Theriault, a political scientist at the University of Texas, developed polarization scores that reduces data on the different philosophies of the political parties into individual scores. Accordingly, Theriault illustrated that after 1973, polarization continuously increased. These measures indicate that the separation scores of the 108th Congress are doubled of what they were in the 93rd Congress.
The polarization in the legislative branch can be understood with four main reasons; redistricting, constituent sorting, extremism of party activists and institutional explanations. Redistricting has created less contentious seats for representatives, as the constituencies are now more homogenous. Redistricting leads to constituent sorting that contributes to an increase in elected officials who lean towards their respective ends of the spectrum as opposed to being moderates. The homogeneity of these constituencies makes election for independents and moderates more difficult to obtain. Moderates on both sides of the aisle are pressured to vote with their respective party. All moderates are aware and concerned about the repercussions that might result if they do not toe the party line. Some examples of these repercussions include: being passed over for a committee position, internal primary challengers, and possibly being cut off from electoral funding from their party. In particular, this factor stems from more formidable and powerful party leaders. As moderates continue to dwindle in ranks, members with more extreme political views replace them. However, the main reason behind polarization derives from the methods used in the House and the Senate. In particular the arrangement of roll call votes. The combined effect of these factors has contributed to increased polarization in U.S government.
Aside from the presidential election, November 6, 2012 will be an important day as thirty-three Senate seats are up for election, of which twenty-three are held by the Democratic Party. What may appear to be just another U.S Senate election is anything but the case. Over the past couple of months, many moderate Senators have decided to not pursue re-election, citing party polarization on Capitol Hill as one of the main impetuses behind their decision to retire include: Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME), Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), and Jim Webb (D-VA). Other moderates confronted with difficult races for re-election include: Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Jon Tester (D-MT). In recent news, six-term Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana was defeated in the Republican Primary on April 8th by Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. The reasons behind his electoral loss were partially due to his bipartisan efforts over the course of his tenured career. If this trend of replacing party moderates with party extremists continues, Scott Brown could be next to step down.
Historically, residents of Massachusetts have predominantly supported members of the Democratic Party. However, in the 2010 special election to replace Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Scott Brown made history by defeating Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley to become the first member of the GOP to serve in the United States Senate from the Commonwealth in over three decades. Senator Brown has established himself not only as a unique component of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, but also as a rarity in American politics today. He is an independent voice and widely considered to be one of the few remaining bridges available between the Democrats and Republicans in the U.S Senate. Senator Brown was one of just five Republican Senators to vote for cloture on the Jobs Act that passed on February 22nd, 2010. In just two years in office, Senator Brown has assisted in the creation of tax credits for companies that employ veterans, the prohibition of insider trading by Congressional members, the assurance of proper burials in Arlington Cemetery, and the manifestation of a new plan of operation for the US postal service”.
His challenger from the left, Elizabeth Warren, is an author, a domestic bankruptcy law pundit, and a professor at Harvard Law School. Before becoming a candidate for the U.S Senate Mrs. Warren was the Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel that handled the implementation of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) under President Obama in 2008. As a result of her experience on the COP, Warren has been an outspoken voice against corporate malfeasance and the risky business models that initiated the 2008 financial crisis. As a possible solution and safeguard against future occurrences of similar types of corporate impropriety, Warren lobbied hard for the establishment of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB was created in July 2010 under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. As a candidate, Ms. Warren has promised to protect the economic security of the middle class, fight for LGBT civil rights, and to be a Wall Street watchdog.
The election of either Ms. Warren or Senator Brown will factor significantly into which party will control the U.S Senate in 2013. A recent Rasmussen poll posited a close race between Warren and Brown in their efforts to represent Massachusetts in the U.S Senate. In recent months, the political contest has started to heat up between the two candidates and their campaign advertisements. From commercials to Facebook, Brown campaign seeks to portray Ms. Warren as a left-wing, Harvard elitist who is a strong supporter of big government and more familiar with DC than her own backyard. On the other side of the equation, the Warren campaign focuses on unraveling Senator Brown’s independent image by highlighting his continuous support for big business and his friendly relations with Wall Street. The outcome of this election is significant for myriad reasons, yet perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of this election is that the defeat of Senator Brown would squelch yet another moderate voice in Congress and contribute to the ever-increasing polarization of American politics.
Political Science ‘13
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