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VINE VOICEon November 16, 2004
This is a very brief and tightly argued book of enormous relevance to us in 2004. It makes the following remarkable points:

1. On close inspection of individual opinions, the vast majority of the electorate in the U.S. are *moderate*, not radically polarized into liberals and conservatives. That is, most of us are, as we would like to believe, capable of thinking independently for ourselves rather than strictly along party ideological lines.

We are a _closely_divided_ nation, as reflected in the very close recent elections, however we are NOT a _*deeply*_divided_ nation. That is, we are not really a nation of two distinct warring camps and a couple of swing states as the media sometimes present it for dramatic purposes. Fiorina sugests that we are actually something close to an ambivalent nation which divides itself in poltitical matters because we have no choice when presented with highly divided options.

2. The American public has *not* become dramatically polarized even over such hot topics as abortion. Rather, relatively small differences among us have been magnified by the rhetoric used to present the issues to us.

3. The political choices we have are determined by a distinct class of politicians, party activists, and interest group leaders, who *have* become increasingly polarized over moral and religious ideology as well as economic ideology.

4. A large part of the polarization of the political class has been the result of the realignment of the South, such that republicans aligned aggressive foreign policy with hostility to the welfare state, and democrats aligned antiwar sentiment with support of those at risk. This is represented particular well by the "gender gap" which widened at the same time this realignment or tuning of the ideologies of the parties was taking place.

Fiorina suggests that when Bill Clinton once said early in his presidency that he was Pro-Choice, but against abortion, most Americans knew what he meant, that most of us, liberal or conservative, do not want to legislate morality for others, even though we have a clear sense of what is right and wrong. Fiorina also points out for example that most 80% of us believe that abortion should be legal under some conditions (even if wrong), and illegal under others. The extremes at each end which promote unconditional rights for unborn babies or for mothers are roughly the 10% tail at either side of a normal curve.

Finally, he also provides data showing that the averaged opinions of self-identified liberals and conservatives regarding abortion differ only regarding under what specific conditions they think abortion should be legal, not the legality of abortion in general.

The result is that the supposed "culture war" is really a war between increasingly ideologically polarized political parties and their activists who arent really even aware of each others reasoning, with most of us in the middle getting hit by friendly fire from both sides, but being forced to choose between them.

The bottom line for Fiorina's argument here is that we are a nation currently creating unneccessary internal conflicts and indulging in "culture war" polarized issues like gay marriage or unconditional rights of various kinds that are really of concern to a relatively small and unrepresentative number of us. They are sold to us by political parties and the media because of their drama rather than their relative importance. It's hard for me to look at the political ads for either of the current candidates in 2004 without nodding agreement on this.

Our political system provides us with ideological extremism on both sides, and seems to have no desire or ability to change itself, whereas most of us caught in it would usually prefer pragmatic and non-ideological solutions to issues that address larger numbers of us.

I read this at the same time at Juergensmeyer's book "Terror in the Mind of God," and it is chilling how much the "culture war" among the political elites comes to resemble the "cosmic war" of good and evil that Juergensmeyer theorizes leads to real violence under some conditions. If Fiorina is right, we may not really have a (popular) culture war at all, but we could create one if it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as we come to accept it uncritically.

If Fiornia had a solution for this centrally important problem, this book would merit 6 or 7 stars. However, just by pointing it out so clearly, it merits the highest rating I can give it.

Please read this important and timely book.
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on December 17, 2008
This is a great book, but I'm not sure that I feel comfortable fully embracing Fiorina's thesis. Fiorina argues that the electorate is not polarized, but we perceive it to be for various reasons (Polarized politicians, political activists, most voters are moderate with few extremists in the electorate, the media blows it all out of proportion, ect.). While Fiorina makes a compelling case and provides exhaustive evidence to support his claims, as much as I want to embrace his argument, my experience begs to differ. Perhaps I tend to be around extremists from both sides of the political spectrum and my experience is different than others, but as far as I can tell my peers are just as polarized as the political community. I've never lived in blood red America, but I've met enough die hard conservatives to know that lots are out there. I've also spent the majority of my life in some of the most liberal populations in the country, so I know there's a pretty strong coalition on the other side. Fiorina states that we are "closely but not deeply divided" meaning the median voter is the most common voter. That being said, I think most moderate voters just don't care and the ones who are really active politicians tend to be extremists. That being said, I think this book is important for the entire electorate or not. Because whether America is polarized or not, I think this book will challenge readers to consider how healthy deep partisanship really is as well as to be more pragmatic in our own political views and discussions. The polarization of America (or the illusion of it as Fiorina argues) is the result of a political system in desperate need of reform, and I think this book may help us to better understand the division of the electorate and encourage us all to work together, become more involved, more informed, and consume media with more scrutiny. While my experience encourages me to reject the thesis of Fiorina's Culture War, I think it's an interesting, provocative read important for all registered voters to read.
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We are using Fiorina's book as a supplementary text to the primary text book in our Introduction to Political Science course at the community college where I tutor. It helps to add dimension to the more basic exposition of the structure of government (separation of powers, federal systems, etc.) by looking at partisan and party political issues more in-depth, and more currently. This book starts with the wonderful quote from Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who once stated that all are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Fiorina walks a fine line between opinion and fact, and does so with skill.

The book goes through the midterm elections of 2002 for its data; hopefully an update will be forthcoming soon. Still, the closely divided nature of the country is still present throughout, a roughly 50/50 nation of red states and blue states, with plenty of blue in the red, and plenty of red in the blue. This is a key understanding for Fiorina - the nation is not sharply divided or deeply divided, but rather closely divided. He points to events such as Patrick Buchanan's speech in 1992 heralding a replacement of the Cold War with the Culture War, and showing that, despite the best efforts of commentators on all sides, the typical American will still be a centrist and moderate in many respects.

The idea of a culture war is a myth, according to Fiorina. This is based on the misrepresentation of facts, or misinterpretation of such data as election results and polling data. The polarisation of America is more of an appearance or illusion brought out by statistical manipulation than a reality inherent in the system.

At the highest levels, Fiorina states, the parties are indeed more polarised, but this sharp identification left or right is greatly diluted, the further from the party centre, the less polarised people are. One example of this is the issue of gay rights and gay marriage, which came to the forefront strongly in the run-up to the 2004 Presidential and Congressional elections. Fiorina analyses this, forecasting that the idea of a permanent shift from economic to religious-based issues is a premature conclusion that many commentators are drawing, and that more traditional identifications are still very strongly present in the American political spectrum.

Fiorina also examines the way in which extreme voices on both sides of the political spectrum can influence, and indeed dominate, American politics in the media, and how this can be understood and put in proper perspective by the middle-ground majority. He identifies three major developments: the rise of the purists, the expansion of government, and the increasing level of participation in democracy in the country. These three elements (together with other factors) make for a tricky situation in the future. Fiorina's humour is apparent in various ways - he uses a quote from Stealer's Wheel ('clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right...') to describe much of the way people see American politics (and the clowns and jokers can be on both sides alternately, and sometimes simultaneously!).

This is a good text to use to understanding and explore current political trends. Only a bit more than 100 pages, it encompasses a great deal of information, in an interesting and engaging manner.
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The theme of this well-done book is summarized by one of their early graphs. It is an upside down version of the Bell-Shaped Curve, used in a book of the opposing view to demonstrate that no one is in the middle. The further you go toward either side on the x axis (I wish I could show the graph on Amazon), the more numbers accumulate on each periphery (creating the curve), thereby suggesting the country is polarized and deeply divided. Our authors used the same data, flipped the graph over to its more familiar shape, showing that most Americans are centrists!

The introductory chapter states their simple thesis eloquently, as do all three of the excellent reviews found here on Amazon: The supposed polarized culture is a myth, perpetuated by politicians and the media for their own purposes. After the introductory chapter, several divisive issues (abortion, gay rights, etc.) have their own chapter for more careful analysis. In each situation, academic analysis of the data shows the US has extreme opinions on each side, but the vast majority collect in the middle.

An interesting example recently is the attention given to the Terry Schievo case by the media and certain politicians. In virtually every presentation, the media was dripping with emotion and sympathy, mostly for the parents. Well, I guess they have to make a living. Anyway, after over a week of this fiasco, I ran across one guy being interviewed who said to the press, "By the way, you do understand, don't you, that THOUSANDS of people die every day, in the United States, in exactly the same manner?" Why did we not see a sixty minute special calmly considering both sides of this important ethical issue, instead of constant emotional bombardment.

One more comment: Several times the authors of this fine book mentioned an attention-grabbing statistic in support of the centrist tendencies of US citizens on a supposed polarizing issue, then added, "Of course, academians in political science are not surprised." The point here - there is a large gap between what academically accepted evidence shows and what is presented to us (shouted at us) by those who have vested interests in perpetuating the myth of a highly polarized US culture. Great book!
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on April 22, 2016
This is a political science book with a heavy emphasis on science. There are so many graphs and surveys it will make your head spin and a few of them are difficult to follow or interpret. But all of that is necessary in provided supporting proof for the very bold claim: Americans are not polarized. The data, graphs and poli-sci jargon can muck up the reading a little bit by making it a chore but I understand the need for it all.

If I took anything away from this book I took away two things: 1.) Americans aren't polarized as the media would have you believe and 2.) surveys and the data gathered from surveys are immensely dependent upon the questions.

A quote that summarizes the book can be found on page 9:

"A polarized political class makes the citizenry appear polarized, but it is largely that--an appearance."

Morris Fiorina sets out to prove that the people aren't polarized on their policy positions, they are polarized in their choices. Meaning, if two Americans aren't in agreement on an issue they usually aren't too far apart, BUT... the candidates that they most closely identify with are usually miles apart from on another. Hence, when the voters go to the polls the results will indicate that the people are polarized when in reality they only had TWO choices. What Fiorina proved is that we're not strictly red or blue but more purple.

And I like how Fiorina compared and contrasted different surveys to expose just how vague some surveys can be while others paint a clearer picture. One such survey was on the issue of abortion. People are either pro-choice or pro-life (no one wants to be labelled anti-whatever when talking about abortion). Those are usually the choices and it is one of the most polarizing issues in America. But when a survey was done that had six questions on it it told a different story:

"Please tell me whether or not you think it should be possible for a pregnant woman to obtain a legal abortion if

1.) the woman's own health is seriously endangered.
2.) she became pregnant as a result of rape.
3.) there is a strong chance of serious defect in the baby.
4.) the family has very low income and cannot afford anymore children.
5.) she is not married and does not want to marry the man.
6.) she is married and does not want any more children.

The majority of Americans on either side of the debate agreed on at least the first three categories with few saying it should be illegal in all cases and few saying it should be legal in all cases. But the activists on either side that seemingly speak for everyone make it seem as though the issue is black or white.

There are many such examples as this throughout the book that do a lot to dispel the myth of this huge chasm between us all. It is a worthwhile read if just to give you a new perspective.
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Red states versus blue states. We have all heard of the great divide in the United States for so long that it has become something close to "received wisdom." This thin little book, authored by the well-respected Morris Fiorina (with the assistance of Samuel Abrams and Jeremy Pope), questions this widely held view of a culture war raging in the United States.

Fiorina, for those readers who are familiar with his academic research, is a skilled researcher, well schooled in statistics. It is to his credit that he presents evidence in a way that is accessible to lay readers (his technical publications would not be so easily understandable to nonacademic readers).

In short, he believes that the idea of a great culture war is dead wrong. As he says in Chapter 1: ". . .the sentiments expressed. . .[by] scholars, journalists, and politicos range from simple exaggeration to sheer nonsense." Chapter 2 suggests strongly that the differences between citizens in red and blue states is not so great as advocates of the culture war say. While there is greater polarization between leaders of the Republicans and Democrats across the country, this same polarization is not nearly so manifest among the bulk of the American people. Indeed, the United States, in his view, remains a centrist, moderate country politically.

All in all, a good read and a provocative thesis. Worth reading by those interested in how well "culture war" serves as a metaphor for American politics.
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on July 20, 2006
Whether you believe the U.S. is a polarized nation or not, Fiorina delivers a very readable and brief insight to our conflicted society. I have read Hunter's 1992 Cultural War and several articles and papers on the American "culture war" and it often difficult to agree with Fiorina.

While it is a good book overall one can certainly find faults and skewed views on some of his stats. It is difficult for me to believe that this country is as united as Fiorina would have the reader believe.
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on November 16, 2008
Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America (Great Questions in Politics Series) (2nd Edition) (Great Questions in Politics) Some say that the United States has become extremely polarized while others say that the electorate is more "centrist" in nature. Who is correct? Fiorina does an excellent job of creating convincing evidence that both contentions are correct. Partisans are divided by a deep chasm of conservatism and liberalism yet those who wear the Independent label are more moderate just left and right of center. The author covers possible reasons for this divide and succinctly offers a glimpse into the future of the American electorate. This is a great book to add as an additional textbook for an undergraduate or graduate level course or just as a book for a "political junkies" who wants to learn more about United States politics.
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VINE VOICEon November 5, 2010
Fiorina and his associates argue here that the American public is not polarized politically, and that cultural issues have not displaced traditional economic concerns. They admit that some aspects of American politics have changed. People who disagree increasingly sort themselves into the Democratic or Republican parties, whereas liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats used to provide large overlaps across parties. Cultural and moral issues have also change - - church attendance and not religious denomination now determines voting behavior, for example.

What seems to be a cultural war reflects instead the polarization of political elites and the activists who support them. In many elections, a centrist American public is being forced to choose between a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican instead of between two centrists. They explain how some institutional changes have tended to produce this result, though I found that part of the story incomplete.

Overall, they have made a convincing case for the position that centrist Americans are being poorly served by extremists who create a cultural war where there is none. The authors include a little bit of political science theory here, and quite a bit of the political behavior literature, both explained in layman's (=college freshman) terms. If you're interested in American politics, you probably want to read this.
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on December 11, 2010
The "culture war" rhetoric recently popularized by some in the media polarizes and stereotypes Americans. Blue states are snobs. Red states are unsophisticated working class stiffs. But is such polarization real, or is it the figment of "politicos" in the media who have found a catchy sound bite? Media and the politic elite appear to find such divides useful to their purposes, i.e., to be able to play up to their base. Americans are divided in real ways across issues of abortion, gun control, and governmental control over their day to day lives. However, how much this divide actually results in "two Nations" is debatable. Fiorina (2005) provides somewhat of an answer to that question. It is that there is no real culture-divide and Fiorina hammers this point with survey data. Red and Blue states are not divided at all, but are centrists in orientation. However, when the survey data is examined America appears to be more right of center than smack down the middle centrists. For example, both Red and Blue States believe at equal levels that immigration should decrease, favor school vouchers, and view the moral climate as much worse than previously. Both hold socially progressive ideas of equality for women, oppose racial discrimination, and tolerance of others moral views. The divide comes in terms of gun control and opposition to legalization of abortion- and perhaps it is these issues that color our opinion of the "culture divide." It may be that there are deep divides in terms of these two issues in Red and Blue states, but on multiple core issues there is agreement in the conservative direction by the American Electorate.

Dan Smee
Author, "Totally American"
Totally American: Harnessing the Dynamic Duo of Optimism and Resilience to Achieve Success
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