America seems deeply divided. The House of Representatives is split 222-213 between Democrats and Republicans, meaning just five seats need to flip to put Republicans back in control (two seats are still technically contested, including one won by just six votes). After the Georgia runoff races, the Senate is split down the middle, 50-50. Half the country, as in 2016, appears to believe the presidential elecdetion was stolen from their preferred candidate. It appears as if polarization is here to stay.
Or, maybe not. A careful look at underlying shifts in support among the parties suggests that America is in the middle of a political realignment. The process has yet to play out, but when it does it is likely that neither the MAGA wing of the Republican Party nor the democratic socialist wing of the Democratic Party will be calling the shots.
That’s because while these two factions may appear dominant in American politics today, there are other factions still looking for a political home in our two-party system.
The first faction, which we might call the New Liberals, is in many ways the party of the suburbs: generally college-educated people, often white, who are tolerant and not socially conservative but who, for the most part, live in traditional family units and want their children to go to good colleges. With many expressing visceral dislike for President Donald Trump, they swung to Joe Biden in the presidential election but appear to have trended back toward the GOP in the Georgia runoffs.
The second faction, which we might call the New Conservatives, are an aspirational group. Often from immigrant families, they want the freedom to run a business and are worried by democratic socialists who remind them of people who ruined their home countries. They want an end to the lockdowns but also to be made whole for the money they lost during them. Many voted for Trump during the presidential election but appear to have swung to the Democrats in the Georgia runoffs — perhaps in disgust at the Senate’s refusal to allocate more relief money to ordinary Americans (as anecdotal evidence from activists suggests).
This suggests America’s supposed polarization can be defeated by a party appealing to both groups and suppressing the instincts of its more vocal extremist wing. As the brief characterizations above suggest, they both have elements of traditional conservative and liberal leanings. This suggests that either major party might be able to unify factions. America’s two-party system is built to encourage big tent coalitions.
What may prove most difficult is suppressing the more vocal factions. There is evidence that MAGA supporters failed to come out and vote in the Georgia runoffs, indicating perhaps a lack of appetite for compromise. Similarly, if the democratic socialists refuse to compromise and insist on ramming through things the moderates view as extreme, they could just as effectively drive off centrists.
This is why it’s important to realize that the realignment is still under way. How it will work out is yet to be seen. The emergence of MAGA as an identifiable political bloc, with many of its supporters deserting the Democrats, was simply its first manifestation. How the Biden administration handles vaccinations and the end of lockdowns might determine the way the realignment proceeds. Too much bureaucracy could unite MAGA and the new factions, for instance.
Read the full article at The Kansas City Star.