The Cincinnati Enquirer publishes this recent (June 2012) snapshot of the increasing spread among members of the Republican and Democratic Parties. Pew has tracked attitudes among party members since 1987 and, looking at "48 political values measures" (role of government, social issues, etc.) Pew found that "the average partisan gap has nearly doubled over this 25-year period – from 10 percentage points in 1987 to 18 percentage points in the new study."
Give credit to partisan dead-enders: They realize the organizations they swear fealty to are part of the problem.
Nearly all of the increases have occurred during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. During this period, both parties’ bases have often been critical of their parties for not standing up for their traditional positions. Currently, 71% of Republicans and 58% of Democrats say their parties have not done a good job in this regard.
And here's even better news that got soft-peddled by the Enquirer: It turns out that political partisans are outliers in terms of increasingly polarized attitudes. When you take the pulse of the electorate based on things such as gender, income, edumication, and the like, things have been pretty damn stable at the same time that party members have been going crazy from, well, their own party's suckitude (hey, can 71 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of Democrats be wrong?).
Here's the full Pew findings on changes in attitude across various dimensions. It doesn't show a country in full kumbaya mode (thank god), but the findings lend credibility to the important and relatively overlooked findings of Morris P. Fiorina in Culture War?. Fiorina and crew argue that while the political process has gotten progressively more polarized over the years, there's actually a huge amount of consensus and stability when it comes to many supposedly divisive issues (ranging from abortion to government spending). His book is well worth reading and helps explain why large majorities or pluralities of Americans tend to agree on many, if not most, things. And why that consensus is routinely ignored by the press and political operatives, especially during elections.
Political partisans are the nuts, not the lumpen voters, who have been deserting political parties in record numbers for years now. According to Gallup, 40 percent of voters identify as "independent." Indies are now the single-largest voting bloc in the country and who can blame anyone for refusing to belong to the Democratic or Republican parties after the last dozen years of bipartisan jib-jabbery and failed policy after failed policy? Independents will decide this election.
Matt Welch lays out the case for why indies are not only growing, but turning to the sorts of libertarian policies and candidates we laid out in our book, The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America, just out in paperback with a new introduction.