Listening as a political de-polarizer

Half a century ago, 144 Republicans in the U.S. House were less conservative than the most conservative Democrats, according to a recent Pew Research Center review. And 52 House Democrats are less liberal than most liberal Republicans. Members vote with their party leadership almost 60% of the time. Now there is no such overlap. The House has only about two dozen moderates. All members voted on the party line more than 90% of the time.

The wider ideological divide has resulted in a crisis of confidence in how voters view their elected officials. Chloe Maxmin, a Democratic state senator from Maine, said in a new book condemning her party’s expulsion from rural America, “People from all political perspectives share something in common: a deep lack of political confidence and a deep frustration with not having their voices heard in our government. ”

Fixing that problem – restoring the American system of representative democracy to reflect more closely its original design – may not be as difficult as it says. A new University of Maryland study found that voters value accountability more through direct conversations with their elected officials than party identity. That attitude provides a counterpoint to the common view that American society is unmet polarized and democracy is damaged as a result.