Morning Jay: Obama the Polarizer
6:00 AM, May 2, 2012 • By JAY COST
Writing on Monday, Michael Goodwin blasted Team Obama for its Osama bin Laden reelection campaign ad:
Is it fair to claim that Obama’s presidency has been polarizing? And if so, can we blame him for this result?
To begin, Obama’s election in 2008 was decided by a very polarized electorate. To appreciate this, consider the following graph, which tracks the standard deviation around the statewide average of presidential vote. (The standard deviation is simply a measure of the variation around the average, so it points to what we are interested in: the greater the variation, the greater the differences between the states, and thus greater polarization. When we do this for every election in the postwar era, we can get a good sense of where 2008 stacks up.)
Clearly, polarization has been up substantially from 2000 through 2008, which is really an indication that the red states are getting redder and the blue states bluer.
It is unfair to blame Obama very much for this, but immediately after becoming president, he began exacerbating these divisions for his own political gain. Remember this, just days after he was sworn in?
At the time, many conservatives who genuinely wished Obama well, like Ed Morrissey (and myself), cried foul on this kind of strategy, arguing that it was inconsistent with the pledge of the Obama campaign. But it was really just the beginning of a systematic effort by the president to misrepresent the views of his opponents, to question their motivations, and thus to win over the unaffiliated vote in the middle of the country. He first employed this strategy with the battle over the stimulus and continues using it all the way through today.