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The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era, Sam Rosenfeld

Reviewed by Steven W. Webster

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As the signal characteristic of contemporary American politics, the extent to which Americans have become polarized along partisan and ideological lines has received a considerable amount of scholarly attention. Yet while most studies focus on the role of demographic changes or racial attitudes in producing this polarization, Sam Rosenfeld takes a different approach. In The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era, Rosenfeld cogently argues that the pursuit of a polarized political system was a conscious choice made by key actors on both the political left and the political right. These deliberate, top-down series of actions by midcentury political elites were meant to solve the problems resulting from a political system in which the lack of differences in terms of policy preferences between the Democratic and Republican parties “stifled progress while blurring accountability to the voters” (p. 5). Drawing on extensive archival work and expertly juxtaposing trends within the Democratic and Republican parties, Rosenfeld shows that political elites believed that programmatic parties, neatly defined along a left-right ideological spectrum, would offer voters a clearly articulated choice at the ballot box and lead to better accountability and representation. The pursuit of polarization, then, was a deliberate choice on behalf of political elites

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