Is There Enough Data to Test the Hypothesis?
Gallup has been assessing polarization between Republicans and Democrats since the Eisenhower administration. Trends observed regarding peaking and waning polarization are based on data recorded over 10 presidencies. While this may be enough to start formulating theories, it should be remembered that political climates and public sentiment are always evolving, making it difficult for past numbers to be relevant.
Numbers as recent as those from the Bush administration may be misleading when compared to modern levels of polarization, since the country rallied around the president immediately following the 9/11 attacks. It is not possible to know whether Bush’s polarization level for his first three years would have been closer to his 4th year number of 76, had 9/11 not happened. A prediction that Obama’s 4th year polarization will be higher than 76, since his first, second, and third year numbers were higher than Bush’s, may be flawed since there have been no major terrorist attacks thus far in Obama’s first term.
Interpreting this Presidential Poll Results
This presidential poll affirms statements made by politicians and pundits that, despite Obama’s statements during his 2008 campaign regarding bringing Americans together, he is still strongly favored by Democrats and strongly opposed by Republicans. This indicates that moderate Independents will possibly play a major role in determining the 2012 election. The fact that Obama’s polarization level has been essentially stagnant during his presidency suggests that Democrats and Republicans mostly have their mind made up regarding whether or not they support him. The result is likely to be Obama, and the eventual Republican nominee, campaigning to woo Independent voters, and to get their bases motivated to vote on election day — something that may be challenging for both parties, as those on the far right and far left may be disappointed to see their preferred candidates promoting centrist policies.
Gallup. Obama Rating Historically Polarized. Accessed January 28, 2012
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