Polarization is often discussed as a modern phenomenon, something that has happened in the past half-century. While no doubt true, this framing omits the constitutional underpinnings that exacerbate polarization and leave it entrenched in the specific way we see it now. A fragmented and contentious beginning to the American republic left a Constitution with multiple power centers (a Congress and an independent presidency in separate branches). That beginning left a trap in the design that goes beyond simple anti-majoritarianism. To gain control of the full national government, coalitions must be both sizable and sustained. But the ideological parties of our own day cannot meet the prerequisites set by the constitutional system. Power can be gained for a time—meaning an election cycle or two—but not in a sustained or sizable way. The resulting national politics is one where the parties may be ideologically coherent but are incapable of meeting the bar set by the Constitution. Chances for reform are discussed in the conclusion, though those chances seem dim in many respects.
Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy, Volume 3, Issue 3-4 Special Issue - The Political Economy of Polarization
See the other articles that are part of this special issue.