A New Trend in American Political Attitudes Helps Explain How we Got Into This Mess

The World
How It Works
Oct. 2 2013 10:32 AM

A Broken Public?

152414428
Statues of unemployed men standing in a unemployment line during the Great Depression at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial on Sept. 20, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

From the Great Depression on, the conventional wisdom has been that U.S. public support for government involvement in the economy moves in concert with the state of the economy.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

As sociologists Clem Brooks of Indiana University and Jeff Manza of New York University explain in a paper just published in the American Sociological Review, for most of the 20th and early 21st century, the pattern has been that “citizens prefer less spending and regulation in times of prosperity, but they turn away from unregulated markets and demand more government in times of economic down-turn and rising unemployment.”

Advertisement

But in the 2008–2010 recession, exactly the opposite happened. “Rather than the recession stimulating new public demands for government, Americans gravitated toward lower support for government responsibility for social and economic problems,” they write.

In their provocatively titled paper, “A Broken Public? Americans’ Responses to the Great Recession,” the authors address several possible explanations, before concluding that the key is partisan polarization, particularly among staunch conservatives:

Rather than moving in parallel to one another, government attitude trends among partisan groups show considerable divergence, even polarization, over time. Most notably, we find the greatest degree of group divergence from 2008 to 2010. Strong Democratic identifiers, for instance, moved toward slightly higher levels of support for government responsibility, and strong Republican identifiers moved much faster in the opposite direction.

What are the consequences of this new trend? Well, it’s just possible that a public operating under these conditions might end up electing representatives willing to shut the government down over opposition to a new government program. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 20 2014 1:50 PM Why We Shouldn’t be Too Sure About the Supposed Deal to Return the Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 2:16 PM Even When They Go to College, The Poor Sometimes Stay Poor
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 20 2014 1:43 PM Chouara: A Striking 11th-Century Tannery in Morocco
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 1:26 PM This $248 Denim Jumpsuit Is the Latest Example of a Horrible Fashion Tradition
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 1:51 PM Will Amazon Lead Us to the Golden Age of Books? A Future Tense Event.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 10:23 AM Where I Was Wrong About the Royals I underestimated the value of building a team that’s just barely better than mediocre.