A House Divided

As the Nation Goes, So Goes the Church

Every four years our presidential elections, depressing though they may be, provide a fascinating view of American society. The 2012 election—blessedly behind us—revealed a starkly polarized America. Before the next round begins, it is worth considering what we as Catholics might do to counter the polarizing trends that threaten our ability to come together and act as one people.

An analysis of the election results by pollster extraordinaire Nate Silver found that in 2012 a large majority of congressional districts (242) were landslide districts—places where Obama got more than 73 percent of the vote or Romney got more than 67 percent (i.e., a difference of more than 20 percentage points from the national average). Only thirty-five were swing districts, in which the vote more or less reflected the overall national vote. The landslide districts, which have been steadily growing in number for two decades, are increasingly homogeneous politically—and their representatives in Congress act accordingly. Elected by firmly partisan constituencies, they see no need to compromise; indeed, they fear primary challenges if they deviate from the party line or work with members of the other party.

This electoral polarization makes it nearly impossible for Congress to do the nation’s business, as the recent government shutdown once again demonstrated. We...

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About the Author

Mary Jo Bane is the Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Management at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she has been on the faculty since 1981. From 1993 to 1996 she was assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.