Half & Half was a popular flavor of tonic when I was a kid. In those days, my recollection is that it was lemon-and-lime flavored. Polar Beverages of Worcester today makes a Half & Half that is lemon-and-grapefruit. I don’t hear people mentioning Half & Half much these days when the subject is soft drinks, but we have become a Half & Half political culture in our country. I’m baffled by the split. The divide seems to defy probablility. How can 300-plus million people come down on two different sides of politics so consistently? I check the polls at realclearpolitics.com every couple of days. President Obama for the longest time has been bumping up against the 50 percent line, a few percentage points below. The 2000 presidential election was decided by a few votes in Florida even though Al Gore earned more popular votes nationwide than George W. Bush—and W. beat John Kerry in a relatively close contest. Barack Obama beat John McCain 53 to 46 percent (the Electoral College spread was wide: 365 to 173). Still, 53 percent in the popular vote is no landslide when 130 million people voted. Where is the 70 or 75 percent preference? Recent European elections have not produced landslides either. This dividedness contributes to the sense that democracies are stuck, and it makes for a more vicious politics because the margin between winning and losing is so small while the stakes are high. The scary part of this is that the contest is often over the so-called “undecided” voters. Who are these folks who get to tip the election one way or the other? Are they truly undecided or are they not paying attention until the last minute? And if so, is that who you want making the difference?
I have a master’s degree in community social psychology, but am not licensed to do any clinical work on populations at large. It would be difficult to get the whole country on a therapist’s sofa anyway, figuratively or literally. I’d like an expert to explain to me how we got to this Half & Half condition. The political culture in the U.S. often emits a vibe like a civic Civil War, and not “civil” in the “respecting each other” sense. Marjorie, Marie, Dick, and Tony are astute political observers and analysts. Maybe they can weigh in on this. We have a little more than four months of a political tug-o-war to jump in on or watch until the November election. This is not a clean Republican-Democrat split because of all the unenrolled or independent voters (leaving third parties aside for now).
The fracture in the body politic is consequential for public policy and many people’s nervous systems. The decision, one way or the other, will matter in the short run and long run. A democracy is built for many views, but without consensus our representatives in elected offices will struggle to govern. The Republican-Democrat party paradigm that provides structure to our system could be masking a changed reality underneath. Maybe we are a multi-party system in attitude and behavior but our political infrastructure doesn’t reflect this yet. Lacking legitimate niches, perhaps voters ultimately choose between two major options, and it has been sorting out on a roughly 50-50 basis for some time now. I would appreciate hearing people’s thoughts about this.