In an opinion piece in the Washington Post today, Steven Pearlstein argues that despite the reasonableness and moderateness of the American electorate, the increasing polarization of our politics has hit a fever pitch. Candidates are more extreme and less able to compromise. Why? Pearlstein argues it is because of campaign financing:
Public opinion polls consistently report that Americans aren’t happy with these developments — they don’t like partisanship or gridlock — and that their views on issues are closer to the center than to the extreme positions in either party.
And it’s not just the voters. Politicians themselves are frustrated at not being able to get things done; they chafe at their loss of independence and public respect; they loathe the endless fundraising needed to wage unending partisan warfare.
So if voters and politicians don’t like it, why does this polarization persist?
Something fundamental seems to have changed in the political marketplace. The winning strategy is no longer to be more moderate than your opponent, to offer a bigger tent. Instead, it is to be more zealous and committed to your party’s ideology.
This transformation has its roots in what has become the dominant reality of American politics: the arms race in campaign finance.
Candidates and parties now raise and spend enormous sums, well beyond what would reasonably be needed to provide for a well-informed electorate and well beyond what is raised and spent in other advanced democracies.
These days, the average Senate candidate raises and spends $9 million to win election, which works out to slightly more than $4,000 for each day of a six-year term.
For the average House candidate, it’s $1.4 million, or just under $2,000 per day in office (including Saturdays, Sundays and holidays). These sums are several times what they were 25 years ago.
Read the rest of at the Washington Post.