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The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and American Democracy [Paperback]

by Alan I. Abramowitz
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 25, 2011 0300168292 978-0300168297

Renowned political scientist Alan I. Abramowitz presents a groundbreaking argument that the most important divide in American politics is not between left and right but rather between citizens who are politically engaged and those who are not. It is the engaged members of the public, he argues, who most closely reflect the ideals of democratic citizenship—but this is also the group that is most polarized. Polarization at the highest levels of government, therefore, is not a sign of elites’ disconnection from the public but rather of their responsiveness to the more politically engaged parts of it. Though polarization is often assumed to be detrimental to democracy, Abramowitz concludes that by presenting voters with clear choices, polarization can serve to increase the public’s interest and participation in politics and strengthen electoral accountability.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While many Americans worry over the rise of partisan politics, Emory University political science professor Abramowitz (Voice of the People) finds reason to celebrate: the increasing ideological divide, he argues, has engaged more people while making the stakes in elections more clear, resulting in dramatically higher voter turnout (the 2008 election had the highest turnout "in more than four decades") and a populace that's more politically involved-whether campaigning directly, speaking with friends, contributing money or simply putting up yard signs. Statistics show that the "proportion of pure independents in the electorate has been declining since 1970"; party loyalty today is based not on social group identification (as in FDR's "New Deal Coalition") but ideological beliefs, creating more disciplined Republican and Democratic voting blocs. Abramowitz admits that this can become paralyzing in U.S. democracy (as opposed to parliamentary democracies) when the executive and legislative branches are controlled by different parties, making bipartisan cooperation not just unlikely, but politically damaging, and giving those few moderates who remain outsized importance. Abramowitz bolsters his thought-provoking conclusions with 67 tables and charts.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Alan Abramowitz has produced a definitive work on the consequences of a divided electorate in elections, in policy making, and in the capacity for winners to govern. The Disappearing Center is a major contribution to the study of contemporary American politics.”—Thomas Edsall, author of Building Red America and Chain Reaction

(Thomas Byrne Edsall)

“No one is better at analyzing the American voter than Alan Abramowitz. In this exceptionally revealing volume, Professor Abramowitz convincingly explains one of the most discussed phenomena of our time, political polarization.”—Larry J. Sabato, author of A More Perfect Constitution

(Larry J. Sabato)

"Alan Abramowitz explains the most pressing political problem of the day—how Americans have grown so politically divided that they barely speak the same language."—Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart
(Bill Bishop)

"If you’re interested in getting beyond the standard handwringing and calls for bipartisanship, read this exceptionally clear and well-argued book.”—Ruy Teixeira, co-author of The Emerging Democratic Majority

(Ruy Teixeira)

"Among all the academics who write on American politics, Abramowitz is one of the most original, interesting, and convincing, and one of the smartest....[he] has new things to say about polarization.  His focus here on the engaged versus the unengaged is a nice move.  Also, he organizes recognized material about the subject in a way that beats the competition.”—David Mayhew, Yale University

(David Mayhew 2010-02-25)

“Thought-provoking.”--Publishers Weekly
(Publishers Weekly)

"[An] important and persuasive new book."--Ethan Porter, Wilson Quarterly
(Ethan Porter Wilson Quarterly)

"Abramowitz admirably tackles many dimensions of a complex debate. . . . the book is an important text for both new and old students of polarization in American politics."—Hahrie Han, Public Opinion Quarterly
(Hahrie Han Public Opinion Quarterly)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (January 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300168292
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300168297
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #293,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Going, Going, Gone? March 26, 2011
That our politics are now deeply polarized is a well-known fact. But do the polarized politics in Washington reflect the deep divides in the country between red and blue voters (and their respective desires for increasingly opposite policies on both sides)? Or do these elite divisions exist in spite of an essentially purple, moderate America?

Alan Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University, is on the side of Washington as mirror of a deeply fractured electorate rapidly losing its political middle. His new book, "The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and American Democracy" is the story of how voters migrated to the extremes over the last five decades.

Essentially, four big, interlinked things happened. The first is that the parties "sorted" better. The second is that the number of safe districts and safe states increased. The third is that Americans as a whole became more educated. The fourth is that the engagement gap between strong partisans and political moderates widened.

In their 1960 plumage, Republicans and Democrats were both diverse species, loose-fitting labels that meant very different things depending on where you were from. Northern "liberal" Republicans and Southern "conservative" Democrats made up large minority factions, and both often found more common cause with their fellow "liberals" or "conservatives" across the aisle than their fellow partisans. In such an environment, bipartisanship was the norm, rather than the exception.

Then the tumultuous `60s shook the snow globe of American politics. The fight over civil rights broke the Democrats' hold on the "Solid South," turning Southern Democrats into Republicans.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Everything in balance, including the lack of balance April 17, 2014
By Cydni
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I suggest reading this and the polarization myth and making your own decisions. Clearly, presidential sample size is small, so take it with a grain of salt. Makes some very salient points.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and engaging analysis March 19, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
There are untold "analyses" of our current politically polarized environment, but most are no more than polemics based on preconceived ideas populated by cherry-picked data disguised as the truth. Abramowitz's book is very different. Working from the data outwards, Abramowitz reminds us that Political Science includes the word "science." In chapter after chapter he weeds through a never-ending stream of statistics in order to weed out the real from the imagined, and, in the process, comes to some frightening conclusions.

In writing my own book, I found similar results, though far more anecdotal, based, as they were, on my own experiment.

What I would have liked to see a bit more of was Abramowitz himself; why was he interested in this topic? What does he think his findings portend? Does he think that a disappearing center is a good thing?
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars polisciman May 11, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Alan Abramowitz is a first-rate scholar, and has provided an outstanding explanation for the high level polarization among political elites. This is an important book that should be read by knowledgeable citizens, not just specialists in political science.
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