Ten Miles Square


July 27, 2012 2:54 PM Political Scientist Labels Obama (and Bush) As “Dividers”; I Don’t Think That Label Is Justified.

By Andrew Gelman

David Brady says:

The Democrats at this point, all the Democrats like Obama. Republicans don’t like Obama; next to George W. Bush he’s the greatest divider since we’ve been doing public opinion. That is, subtract the percent of his party that like him, minus the percent of the other party that doesn’t like him—so if it’s 90%-10%, there’s an 80-point gap. The third and fourth highest gaps are Obama, so Obama is a divider.

Far be it from me to criticize David Brady, a political scientist who knows much more about American politics than I ever will, but … I think it’s a bit silly to call Obama (or Bush, for that matter) a “divider.” The whole point was that partisans have been divided for awhile and there has been a gradual increase. Saying people are divided is one thing, saying Bush and Obama did it is another.

Brady continues:

I believe that there has been an increase in partisanship. So, for the first time, with President Bush we began to see statistically significant differences. When you asked Democrats what they thought of the economy under Bush, it was horrible; when you asked Republicans, it was not so bad; so that the partisan preferences actually drove the perception of the economy. And that’s the first time that had happened in all of our polling data. So, that’s new.

Huh? In our book we cite data from 1988 (by way of Larry Bartels); see the quoted passage here. I can well believe that partisan divisions are getting worse but they’re not new. It must depend on how you measure it, if Brady is claiming there were no such differences before 2000.

In fairness to Brady, this was a live interview, not a written article, and it’s natural to get things a bit garbled in speech. If you were to transcribe everything I said in conversation, you could catch a lot of mistakes from me too.

Thus, the point of this post is not to criticize Brady but rather to clarify some of the issues that he raised.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

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Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University.


  • Crissa on July 28, 2012 3:46 AM:

    What Democrats (who didn't vote for Reagan) said the economy was good under Reagan?

    His statistics are as flawed as his reasoning.

  • bluestatedon on July 28, 2012 8:17 AM:

    We have before us an alleged expert on American politics who asserts that a President who spent the better part of his first term bending over backwards trying to work with the Republicans was nonetheless "a divider." This is in willful disregard of the fact that the GOP had declared from the beginning of Obama's term that their ONLY goal was to destroy his Presidency.

    This same alleged expert on American politics ignores the completely unhinged nature of the Republican fantasies that undergird their hatred of Obama—ranging from idiotic assertions that he's a socialist who hates capitalism and America to idiotic assertions that he's a Muslim to idiotic assertions that he got rid of Churchill's bust—and blithely attributes that antipathy to Obama being "a divider"

    Most tellingly, this alleged expert on American politics apparently dismisses the widespread and shockingly open displays of overt racism that have been directed at Obama, his wife, and his children by Republicans at all levels of government in virtually every state in the Union right from the start of the campaign in 2008, yet still claims that Obama is "a divider."

    Not only is this an illustration of just how widely the meme of "both sides do it" has spread beyond mainstream media High Broderist hackery, it's also an indictment of Brady's own credentials as a dispassionate, fact-based observer of reality. It's essentially Fox News Lite in an academic environment.

  • Peter C on July 30, 2012 9:41 AM:

    Forgive me, but as a liberal I felt that Bush WAS a divider. From 2001 to 2009, I felt attacked. We were never treated like the loyal opposition; we were the enemy. We push for greater transportation security, and they turn it into a chance to destroy organized labor. We're accused of 'coddling terrorists' when we object to Guantanamo and torture. We were told that the Republicans wanted to kill terrorists and Democrats wanted to psychoanalyze them.

    With a razor-thin victory in 2000, I expected Bush to govern as a centrist; instead he ruled as if he had won a landslide. He shunted us into basement closets for our meetings and switched off our microphones.

    Yes, there has been an increase in partisanship, but this idea that 'both sides do it' is crap.