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New MSU study confirms nation's political divide worst it's been in decades

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

A new Michigan State University study confirms what most people generally assume: that today’s political divide is the worst it’s been in decades.

Zachary Neal is an associate professor of psychology and global urban studiesat MSU.

He examined tens of thousands of bills introduced in Congress from the early 1970s up to 2016. The bills include a list of lawmakers who co-sponsored the legislation. Neal says, over the last half century, the number of representatives willing to cross the aisle to support legislation has dwindled.

He says the steady decline in bills with bipartisan support is a clear sign of polarization. 

“It’s not that there were the good old days when the parties were getting along well. It’s just that they never work together today,” says Neal. “It’s a deeper polarization than we’ve ever seen before.”

Neal says the solution would be to elect more centrists. Though with voters being more polarized, he says that is unlikely.

“A divided nation is part of the reason it’s very difficult for say a moderate or a centrist to get elected,” says Neal.

He doesn’t blame either political party for the polarization.      

But unless more centrists are elected, he sees little chance for any progress on social or economic policies.

The study appears in the journal Social Networks.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.