“Understanding the Partisan Evolution of America’s Culture War,” Justin H. Phillips, Columbia University

Event time: 
Friday, March 6, 2020 - 12:00pm to 1:15pm
Institution for Social and Policy Studies (PROS77 ), A002 See map
77 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 


Abstract: Partisan polarization has become the central story in American party politics over the last generation. Beginning sometime in the late 20th century, social issues that previously had played little role in party division came to separate one party from the other. Republican and Democratic elites staked out opposing positions on a range of issues–including abortion, gay rights, the role of religion in the public sphere, and gun control–and party electorates today are sharply polarized over these issues. But where and when did this divide begin? Our focus in this project is on the politics of abortion and gay rights. We test the proposition that–by the time national parties and elites took positions on social issues–the parties were already constrained by state-level position-taking, that the origins of social issues in the states came earlier than in national platforms, and that the Democratic party initiated this process. Drawing on a massive new dataset, drawn from over 1,700 state political party platforms between 1960 and 2018, most of them newly discovered, we argue that the groundwork for this partisan divide was not laid by presidential candidates or national parties. Rather, it was the product of years of fermentation at the state level. It was a bottom-up social revolution.

Justin H. Phillips is a tenured associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University and a faculty fellow at the Applied Statistics Center and at the Institute for Social and Economic Research. His primary areas of interest are state and local politics and public opinion. Professor Phillips’ research largely focuses on the responsiveness of state governments to voter preferences and the manner in which responsiveness is shaped by institutions, political polarization, and interest group power. As part of this research, he and his collaborators are further developing the statistical techniques needed to estimate subgroup public opinion using national surveys. Professor Phillips is also interested in executive-legislative bargaining at the state level and the determinants of municipal fiscal decision making. His recent papers have appeared in the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, and the Journal of Politics. He has also published a book, The Power of American Governors, with Cambridge University Press.

This workshop series is sponsored by the ISPS Center for the Study of American Politics and The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale with support from the Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Fund

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