The Legislature is Polarized Because We Are

It's an article of faith with California's reformers that small tweaks in the political system can quell the extremes of a polarized legislature and thereby bring it more in line with the virtuous moderation of the bulk of California voters. It's the faith that has given us, in recent elections, the independent redistricting commission and the jungle primary. And it's a faith based, as political scientist Alan I. Abramowitz pointed out again the other day, on a mirage.

As we write in California Crackup, "The trouble with much of the reform conversation is that it misses how much the underlying political landscape has changed." Over the past three decades Californians have been busy swinging their partisan identities more in line with their ideological preferences and sorting themselves geographically into communities of the like-minded.

Abramowitz illustrates the result in the graph above, which depicts the changing ideological views of Democrats and Republicans. "The most important source of polarization in California politics," he writes, "is the ideological divide between supporters of the two major parties." California has a polarized legislature because lawmakers accurately represent California's polarized electorate.

Crafting small-bore reforms based on a fantasy about the electorate you wished you had is a fool's errand. That's why, in California Crackup, we make the case for a system overhaul. Yes, it's hard to do. But unlike the goo-goo fantasies, it might actually work.