Over at his blog, Mike Sances investigates the claim that the Occupy Wall Street protests have made concerns about economic inequality an important item on the political agenda. A recent Washington Post poll found that about 60% of respondents believed there was a widening gap between the wealthy and the less well-off and that the government “should pursue policies that try to reduce the gap.” Sances notes that this 60% figure is a historical high. Drawing on data from the General Social Survey since the late 1970s, he writes:
Note that the “reduce income differences” category has always had a plurality, though never a majority. Could differences in the way the question is worded account for the apparent 20% jump between the GSS in 2010 and the Washington Post result in 2011?
RETIREMENT. This week the New York Times reported that Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), who caucuses with the Democrats, has been speaking with previous contender Linda McMahon, a Republican campaigning for her party’s nomination for Lieberman’s seat, drawing the ire of many establishment Democrats. Lieberman’s retirement and that of other members of Congress this year raises this question: how does the replacement of incumbents (and particularly moderates) by new members affect the polarization of the parties in Congress? University of Texas political scientist Sean Theriault finds (ungated) that the replacement of moderates by more ideologically extreme members has driven polarization:
As southern Democrats, the bulk of whom were in the middle third of the ideological continuum, died, lost, retired or otherwise vacated their seat, they have been, for the most part, replaced by conservative Republicans. Quite simply, when extremists replaced moderates, the ideological middle disappeared and the parties diverged.