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127 of 135 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Political class is polarized, but the rest of us can think!
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...
Published on November 16, 2004 by Todd I. Stark

35 of 65 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I completely disagree
I have had the opportunity to live in Boston then Dallas over the last 15+ years. Politically it's like living in two seperate countries.

I am liberal and can tell you for a fact that here in Dallas, I feel like I am living on another planet. I know a large number of people who actually believe a man built a big wooden boat (without the aid of Black and...
Published on September 14, 2008 by Jame S. Boykin

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127 of 135 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Political class is polarized, but the rest of us can think!, 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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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great argument doesn't convince me, December 17, 2008
Sor_Fingers (Boulder, CO USA) - See all my reviews
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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29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Red and blue for me and you..., March 24, 2005
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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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The States and the Nation Are Bluish Red, May 17, 2005
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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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice contrarian analysis of the culture war, February 7, 2007
Steven A. Peterson (Hershey, PA (Born in Kewanee, IL)) - See all my reviews
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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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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Polarized or not, 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America (2nd Edition), November 16, 2008
Michael G. (South Carolina) - See all my reviews
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good dissection of the claims that Americans are polarized politically, November 5, 2010
Arthur Digbee (Indianapolis, IN, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America (3rd Edition) (Paperback)
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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Red State/Blue State, December 11, 2010
This review is from: Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America (3rd Edition) (Paperback)
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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent political science model, March 27, 2008
The three political scientists advance an analysis that the American public is far less polarized than politicians and the media. Early in the book, they explain that both polarized and moderate electorates can produce very close elections. Close elections are thus not a measure of polarization. A polarized electorate's distribution would have a peak-valley-peak shape resembling a large V. Meanwhile, a moderate electorate would have a standard Bell curve distribution. Based on their data analysis, they deem the electorate has a Bell curve distribution (centrist in tendencies with few very liberal or very conservative in the tails of the distribution).

Throughout the book they reiterate that the Blue and Red-State map is really not informative. They demonstrate that by comparing a Blue and Red-State map reflecting the Bush-Gore 2000 election with a second version of the same map using a threshold of 55%/45% for a given State to maintain its color. All of a sudden, half of the States within that second map turn to gray (split less than 55%/45%). Viewed in this light, the Blue and Red-State concept evaporates.

They explore this vindication of moderation over polarization almost ad nauseam. They share tens of different polls from Pew and Gallup. They focus on some of the most polarizing issues such as abortion. Invariably the results are the same. The difference in attitude between Democrats and Republicans or Blue vs Red State is a lot less than you think.

Those findings about the sameness of the Blue and Red States are more than counterintuitive. Polls showed very similar to almost identical % of those States population favoring the following issues: abolition of inheritance tax, increasing defense spending, protecting the environment, corporations making too much profit, and church should keep out of politics. Some of the largest gaps included acceptance of homosexuality (Blue 57% vs Red 45%) and abortion-always legal (48% vs 37%); But, such gaps around 12% are far less than what we would expect. What would you have guessed? I probably would have gone for at least a 40% gap.

They dedicate an entire chapter on abortion. They find there is no gender gap on this issue! Women have not joined the Democratic party because of the party's pro choice leaning. They have joined it because the party currently favors greater support for social programs helping the disadvantaged and has a less aggressive foreign policy. Women lean towards being pacifists-socialists. And, men lean towards being more warrior-libertarians. That's were the gender value gap is (and not abortion).

The chapter on religion is less counterintuitive than others. The authors indicate there has been a rising gap in voting along religious intensity since 1992. The frequent churchgoers vote Republican while the seculars vote Democrat. The religious schism has to do with religious intensity not religious groups. They feel Bill Clinton is the cause of the rising impact of religious intensity in election. With his libertine lifestyle, he crossed lines at which point some of the electorate judged morals to matter. If Clinton is the cause of this religious schism, maybe it will diminish over time.

In one of the last chapters, they develop an interesting explanatory model. It consists of a standard two dimensional graph (x, y axis). The two dimensions are Economics and Morals. By positioning a candidate along just those two axes, they can predict who wins. The winner is the one who is overall closer to the center (where the axes cross). Looking at it this way, it was easy to predict that LBJ would beat Goldwater. LBJ was far closer to the center on the Economics axis. Next, looking at Bush vs Gore it was an unpredictable toss up because they were both far away from the center on both dimensions (obviously at the opposite of each other).

In the last chapter, Morris Fiorina explains how the parties have become more polarized even though the electorate has not. He explains how Presidential candidates have to cater to the fanatical wing of their Parties to survive the Primaries. This is because of the advent of political "purists." Those purists dominate in low voting turnout situations such as local elections, caucuses and Primaries. The purists are very politically engaged often crusading for narrow causes that the electorate at large does not bother with. They are dogmatic and unable to negotiate compromise with their counterpart from the opposing party. This is because of the purists that much of the national political debate is about abortion, gay rights, gun control, line item veto, teaching of evolution, and other arcane issues that receive far less coverage in other Western countries. The silent majority cares more about foreign policy, health care, education, the economy and other more substantive national issues. Those are often preempted by the narrow but loud focus of the purists. The power of the purists has been exacerbated by the courts that are increasingly active in taking on political issues. Their power has also risen with the emergence of local districts and nonprofit groups that are far more numerous, engaged, well funded, and politically powerful than before. Morris Fiorina is really concerned about the emergence of the purists who he feels have hyjacked our democracy. He feels that one solution is to boost voter turnout in all elections so as to dilute their power. But, short of making election mandatory he is unsure how to achieve that.

The authors' model (reaching out to the center) is the opposite of the Karl Rove strategy (strengthening your base). Rove is deemed responsible for Bush's winning two terms. Was the Rove strategy just a sampling error that will rarely be duplicated? Or has Rove changed politics forever and will prove the authors wrong? This is an interesting question in this current election that will pit a liberal Democrat (Obama or Hillary) vs a centrist Republican (McCain). The authors' model suggests McCain should win. The Rove strategy suggests the Democrat candidate should win. We will soon find out. In any case, during this politically heated time this is a fascinating book to read. If you enjoyed this review, you will really enjoy the book.
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Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America (3rd Edition)
Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America (3rd Edition) by Morris P. Fiorina (Paperback - January 24, 2010)
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