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A new theory about political polarization (phys.org)
116 points by samizdis 81 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 160 comments



Political science seems to be going through a phase of questioning the rationality of voters.

The two major theories of public choice -- Median Voter theory[1] (political parties take positions that appeal to the median voter) and Investment theory of Party Competition[2] (parties take positions most beneficial to their donors), both assume emotions (irrationality) of voters to be small. In the current political climate -- while it seems that the explanatory power of emotions seems to have gone up, it isn't clear why.

This sounds very similar to the debate in economics around Efficient market hypothesis[3] and the emergence of behavioral economists.

While it is seems easy to attribute things to emotion, we might miss other explanatory variables underneath. A great sound-bite from Thomas Ferguson who first proposed [2]: "The electorate is not too stupid or too tired to control the political system. It is merely too poor."

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Median_voter_theorem [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Investment_theory_of_party_com... [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Efficient-market_hypothesis


> The two major theories of public choice -- Median Voter theory[1] (political parties take positions that appeal to the median voter) and Investment theory of Party Competition[2] (parties take positions most beneficial to their donors), both assume emotions (irrationality) of voters to be small. In the current political climate -- while it seems that the explanatory power of emotions seems to have gone up, it isn't clear why.

I read an interesting political science piece[1] about the fall of professional (i.e. corrupt) politicians and the rise of amateur (i.e. ideological) politicians.

The claim is largely that voters started to care more about politicians implementing their favorite policies than being the recipient of trickle-down graft. They started choosing zealots who (at least seem to) have uncompromising stances on issues which won't change later in their term for some reason. Needless to say, these sorts of politicians don't tend to be the moderate, nuanced type.

___

1. I wish I could find it, but it's lost in the mists of the internet.


Perhapa shorter messages reach more targets' emotional activation potential with better propagation fidelity and much less energetic commitment per impression?

Mass media is increasingly a battle of bottlenecked channel management and rationally persuasive content simply doesn't survive this infrastructure without being ground down into smooth, bite sized harangues.

And if you are going to get massed support for an issue, emotional persuasion content suffers much less from propagation distortion because it's distorted to begin with.


Or, to put it another way, and at the risk of taking this discussion out of the abstract, "Lock her up!" only has to work as a tribal shibboleth, not as an actually deliverable policy (especially if your voters have already given up on the idea that politicians actually mean what they say).


Reality Winner was sentenced to federal prison for far less than Hillary Clinton did. She mishandled a single classified document while Hillary mishandled many, including top secret.

She's not in prison because the US has one justice system for us and another for establishment elites. Billionaires pay millionaires to tell the middle class that the poor are the problem. Punch up and fight the ruling class criminals.


We have had an increasingly hostile reaction to members of intelligence leaking to the media for decades especially where it has caused notable embarrassment. I am actually glad that Winner leaked but there is little doubt she intended to break the law.

This is manifestly different from Hillary Clinton keeping email on a private server something other politicians have done without incident or controversy. She clearly intended to receive email more conveniently rather than intending to break the law.

>News reports by NBC and CNN indicated that the emails discussed "innocuous" matters already available in the public domain. For example, the CIA drone program has been widely discussed in the public domain since the early 2000s; however, the very existence of the program is technically classified, so sharing a newspaper article that mentions it would constitute a security breach according to the CIA

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillary_Clinton_email_controve...


> The claim is largely that voters started to care more about politicians implementing their favorite policies than being the recipient of trickle-down graft.

For me graft is a more acceptable in good times. When things are booming it doesn't matter too much if a little extra is skimmed to one side.

When things seem dire, you want someone that will actually fix the problems you are worried about. So graft goes out of fashion.


Whatever the data that Social Media companies have on their ad-spends in terms of politics should provide a very healthy data-set. Add in some mailer data for roundness. You should be able to pull the theories out of that with some elbow grease. I'm fairly certain that's what 538 pretty much does right now, what with most sports cancelled.


> Median Voter theory [...] political parties take positions that appeal to the median voter

That only seems to work in voting systems with proportional representation (as opposed to first past the post systems).

The latter seem to promote polarization, and this alone seems to explain a lot of the differences between the US/UK and countries with proportional-representative systems.


In political science, the conventional view is that polarization observed in the US is not a product of the two camps drifting further apart (in the sense of having more extreme views), it's the product of issue divisions aligning more closely to partisan camps.

Consider Kim Davis. Kim Davis was a county clerk who went to jail after illegally refusing to issue a same-sex marriage certificate after the court system ruled she must. Davis, like most southerners until recently, was a registered Democrat. Until about the year 2000, virtually every southern government was majority Democratic, in some cases supermajority Democratic. The people in those parties often voted for Republican presidential candidates and were as conservative as the Republican Party, but due to inertia, they registered as Democrats. This has largely been eroded over the last 20 years. The result is that even if no one switches their opinions on anything, conservative Democrats now identify as Republicans. There are a number of inertial reasons to stick with a party that has left you behind, or to cynically join a party for a meal ticket. So, some of the apparent "era of good feelings" -- confluence between parties -- actually occurred because a big part of today's Republicans were "mistakenly" registered as Democrats. If any other region becomes one-party dominated for a long time, you'll see the reverse. The reverse is true in Hawai'i, where many erstwhile Republicans would today be simply more conservative Democrats, because the Republican party is extinct there.

There is also a belief that voters are better able to attach positions to parties. For example, if I told you that one party in the US generally favors higher taxes and higher services, and one party generally favors lower taxes and lower services, could you match the party labels to the descriptions, imperfect as they are? There is a general belief that people are better at this than they once were.

Finally, the increase in correlations between issues positions. For example, today we largely view Republicans as a rural party and Democrats as an urban party. That was not true 30 years ago. Prior to the politicization of abortion, there were constituencies that were pro-life and voted for the Democrats (Catholics being a huge such group). Now abortion is neatly aligned across party lines: there are almost no pro-choice Republicans and almost no pro-life Democrats. Ditto immigration -- which used to be cross-cutting when the union left viewed it as a threat to working conditions but now is primarily conceived along the dimension of racial conservatism. If I tell you someone loves guns, you have a pretty good chance of guessing their position on immigration, healthcare, and school prayer, even though outwardly those four issues do not need to be attached to one another.

Finally, within congress, two institutional reforms have contributed to across-party polarization: first, banning earmarks. It used to be that if I wanted corn subsidies and you did not, I would add an amendment to my bill to fund the navy base in your district. We then both vote yes. Killing earmarks may have reduced waste and corruption, but it also reduced a procedural tool used to secure inter-party agreement on contentious bills by offering concessions to the other party. It's like "suing for peace". Second, the "Hastert Rule", a rule that the Republican party adopted to never advance any bill that does not have majority Republican support. It used to be that, say, Republican leadership might advance a bill that had 40% Republican support and 80% Democratic support when those totals add up to more than 50% of the overall congress. By committing not to "roll" their own party, the Hastert rule virtually guarantees that votes that would internally divide parties and thus reveal ideological heterogeneity within the party are less likely to happen in favour of votes that divide across parties.

Why am I mentioning these trends? They contribute to a phenomenon that many political scientists (here I am thinking Tausanovitch and Warshaw, but others as well) have noted: you can perceive polarization (increasing distances between the two parties) without anyone adopting more extreme views. Rather, polarization can emerge from how party labels map to issues and how institutions surface issues to vote on. This doesn't mean no views are changing or become more extreme, but it does mean we should resist estimators that have a simplistic appeal to our gut feeling that things have become more extreme.

Some of this is discussed in the linked article, obliquely, but I think the article suffers from being written by non-political scientists trying to think about a political science problem from first principles rather than engaging with the existing literature. Reinventing the wheel can sometimes be helpful and sometimes is not.


All of this seems to have an unstated prerequisite: The US two party system where voting for a third party actively damages your own interest. It's not perfectly solved in other countries, but having more "evils" to choose from is a good start.

Obviously politicians have have little incentive to change the process they already had to master to gain power though in the first place.


I agree that countries with more than two parties have more opportunities to create majority winning coalitions that cut across painful cleavages. In a three party system (for simplicity I'll do equal sized parties) there are four majority coalitions: all three parties, or each of the three two-party coalitions. This is very good for healing wounds and building bridges and very bad for stability (because there is a majority coalition that can always improve on the status quo, no matter what the status quo is, creating cycles between each of the coalitions). I definitely agree that it makes it easier for regular citizens to disconnect the party they support from sort of more mundane social interactions. I definitely agree it's better for negative out-group affect. It's much harder to hate the other if the boundaries of who is in the other changes regularly and people cycle in and out.

But the US is a presidential system. While the presidency isn't everything, it is a big enough prize. No system can get around the winner-take-all nature of the presidency. I favour ranked choice and/or MMP and would support any reform proposed to achieve better institutions of electoral representation, but nothing is going to get around the fundamentally two-party nature of the contestation of the presidency. If we look at the whole history of the US, the party system has changed a number of times, but each time it has been around assembling roughly two groups contesting the presidency, regardless of how those groups map to formal parties (not at all in the JQA/Jackson era, very strongly today).

Still, regardless of the institutional setup, it's the case that inter-party polarization can emerge from either increasing extremeness, or better correlation between party and ideology, or better correlation between multiple dimensions of ideology, and the same processes I mention above are visible in other multi-party countries as well, to a lesser degree.


What, why is the presidency two party in nature? Any transferable vote system would change this surely?


This is a long digression, sorry. Let's say you have a presidency and that among first choice votes, 40%+1 prefer L, 40%-1 prefer R, and 20% prefer C.

In a plurality system, would-be C voters have to choose between voting sincerely (knowing their candidate has no chance of winning, or to exert a plausible threat in the next election for candidates to take them seriously) and voting strategically (picking between R and L, which is closest to them). This creates a system where the closer of the two has every incentive to co-opt the votes as early as possible and everyone who donates money or time to try to affect the major candidates early. That's what we see now. In the US, most of the negotiation happens within parties. The Tea Party and Sanders movements were both things that acted as caucuses within an existing party instead of forming new parties, because of this incentive.

In a ranked-choice system, the C voters vote for C... and then either L or R. C gets eliminated, and L or R wins. So while the strategic versus sincere tradeoff for C voters is dismantled by the voting system, there's still a center of gravity pushing people into two camps (the L/C->L and the R/C->R camp).

Besides voting, this impacts organization, campaigning, issue messaging, donations, etc. Given that the election is winner take all and there are two camps, what infrastructure should resources pass through? And we've decided that for branding purposes, the answer is mostly stable, long-term professional parties. If you're extremely conservative, you'd rather your choice win the Republican primary than go it alone in an election for senate as an independent conservative. Going it alone does sometimes happen -- but in these cases there still tend to be two main camps for the winner take all election, like how Alaskan senate seats are recently I versus R instead of D versus R, but this normally only happens when there is dysfunction in the infrastructure that should have been one of the two camps.

So, now, take France, which has runoff voting for President. The first round of voting essentially functions as a primary to determine who represents the right and who the left. The institution makes the two surviving camps explicit for the second round of voting, but even in an instant runoff framework this camp structure always would have happened because there's only one president and you can't divide the presidency.

Canada is an interesting case in that it doesn't have a presidency. It has more than two parties. But within each district, there are typically just about two parties -- the country typically has around 2.7-3.5 political parties measure by ENP but the mean district typically has about 2.2 parties. I haven't run the numbers on the 2019 election, so I'm goin by memory. The two party pressure still exists, because electoral districts are winner take all, like the presidency, but it exists at a slightly different level of organization. Canadian parties often try to nationalize their elections (make a vote for your local Liberal a vote for Trudeau, or what have you) but conceptually the competitive dynamics are multiparty only at a national level and two party in most districts. Where they aren't, the third party almost always acts against its own interests as a spoiler, and so they should be. The pressure is powerful.

Thus Duverger's law is best formalized as: in any winner take all election, there is strong strategic pressure to reduce the number of parties competing. Where more parties emerge, it is often a transition state that will in equilibrium reduce down to 2 over time.

The best way to reduce the two camp effect is to reduce the number of things that are winner take all. An MMP or PR electoral system is best suited to ensure this at the voting stage. Even in these systems, the two camp effect often emerges during coalition formation (see: Netherlands; GL and PVV and VVD and Labor can all exist in parliament, but the ways in which they form coalitions are mostly left versus right depending on relative party sizes).

To fully get rid of it, you'd also have to figure out a way to divide the executive in parliament in a stickier way than coalitions do. Something like the Lebanese system (which is designed to ensure every ethnicity controls one major political role) could work. If you imagine a parliamentary country with PR and with a restriction that winning coalitions must rotate the prime minister by party every six months, that would be an interesting start. I am not aware of any countries that go this far.

My post is way too long. I suggest you read the short book "An Economic Theory of Democracy" by Anthony Downs. It is maybe 100 pages and has a wonderful quality of starting with very simple models and then relaxing assumptions until it approximates reality. It's the canonical political science reference to this and one of the main things that kicked off the sort of "median voter" approach to social choice, which as other commentors here mentioned is one of the main approaches to thinking about this problem.


It would change the dynamic, but the issue is the fact that the presidency is "winner takes all." In a multiparty legislature, they parties compete at the polls, and THEN they form a coalition. The stakes for the presidency are such that it encourages coalition building BEFORE the polls, to produce a candidate with an expected majority.

You can see the dynamic during some of the less polarized political cycles of the past. The parties and candidate had to build coalitions of "interests" groups that weren't necessarily pre-committed to one party or another. I could imagine a transferable vote system looking getting us back to that "coalition" state where the parties platforms changed based on the dynamic coalitions.


It adds alot of complexity with the questionable benefit of driving more extremism.


The current system seems to be as extreme as it's possible to be without outright civil war. Generally the business of negotiating coalitions tends to temper extremism - see for example the new three-way Green and Centre-Right coalition in Ireland, which would have been unthinkable a couple of decades ago.

But considering the fact that political positions appear to correlate with brain structures, I honestly wonder if progressives and conservatives are no longer the same species.

Speciation happens when two mutations can no longer breed with each other. There's nothing in evolutionary theory that says the impediments can't be social and behavioural instead of anatomical.


That’s not a party problem, it’s an artifact of our mass experiment with various flavors of social media and unfiltered mass communication. The situation with Twitter giving maniacs a megaphone, Facebook radicalizing anyone and YouTube offering a twisty tunnel of crazy to drive engagement isn’t sustainable.

The counter response will be a lockdown and that will address most of the issue. Unfortunately there is plenty of suffering and discord to be had before that happens.


> But considering the fact that political positions appear to correlate with brain structures

The do now, but didn't historically. So (presuming the correlation is true) are any of the historical factors relevant to changing things today?

It seems like historically there were more dimensions to consider such as class, regional interests, religion and then within those combination of factors you could have a more-liberal or conservative view.

> There's nothing in evolutionary theory that says the impediments can't be social and behavioural instead of anatomical.

There is some data to support this. Charles Murray's Coming Apart cited a big trend of separation amongst the urban/liberal/educated and rural/conservative/religious. It really isn't enough to drive evolution, it certainly has an impact on culture and politics. There is no "reversion to the mean" if the distribution is binomial.


The U.S. recently briefly had a three party system with the emergence of the Tea Party. All it did was radicalize the GOP. Just ask John Boehner.

Arguably this radicalization was only possibly because of the Hastert Rule. Under the Hastert Rule the smart strategy was to only caucus with the GOP, and obstruct the GOP when they didn't get what they wanted. That provided the Tea Party with maximum effectiveness. Without the Hastert Rule and some other technical developments, the Tea Party could have and would have occasionally shifted their support.

Another way to look at it is that without the Hastert Rule and similar mechanisms that bolster the power of parties, a two party system is largely a two party system in name only. What matters isn't the number of nominal parties, but the effective autonomy of individual representatives. You don't need 3 or 5 or 12 parties, which in almost every country invariably come to represent niche interests (similar to all the caucuses in Congress) but otherwise usually align with one of the main parties. You can have the same outcomes so long as politicians and informal caucuses can more easily defect. Not only will they defect, but it softens the official stance of the remaining parties.

We don't need to copy the structure of multi-party European systems. Rather, if we want the same outcomes[1], we should understand the dynamics and replicate or the types of dynamics that matter. Without the latter, simply copying the structure is unlikely to be effective. With the latter, copying is unnecessary.

[1] That assumes the outcomes are different and desirable. But the notion that multi-party systems tend to more centrist and inclusive politics seems stale to me. The rise of populism and even nationalism has hardly been confined to traditionally two-party systems, like in the Anglosphere. Heck, when it come to issues of abortion and immigration the U.S. has always been and remains more liberal than almost every European country.


The Tea Party was not a separate political party. It was a faction in the Republican party that was focused and non-compromise with the Democratic party.It's hard to argue that this would be the same dynamic with a true third party.


"The U.S. recently briefly had a three party system with the emergence of the Tea Party. All it did was radicalize the GOP. Just ask John Boehner. "

In a multiparty system they probably would have been a separate minority party.

I think what the US is really suffering from is that the country is maturing. For a long time people could just claim new areas, start living there and create new lives. The country is now fully owned and populated so moving around to start anew from scratch is not that much of an option anymore. Basically the country is filling up with people. Europe had this going on for much longer and the US is going that way too.


Of the explanations you have given here, most of them appear to be good things. Voters learning more about and becoming more aware of the actions of their representative parties.

Except the hastert rule.

The hastert rule appears to be uniformly evil, and would appear to be an underlying reason for all of the other trends you've described in your post. Because it makes it impossible to govern, except in an extremely polarized manner. Leading to all of the other changes you've described.


I deliberately avoided arguing the normative side of the question and will continue to do so, but I just wanted to reply to say that your position is not unheard of within Political Science. There are some drawbacks I didn't mention (how institutional / party polarization leads to affective / interpersonal polarization, which is probably good for in-group out-group borders and bad for not wanting to kill your neighbor) but I just wanted to say that you aren't, like, inherently or facially wrong in describing some of the things that have increased polarization actually being good from a civic engagement / representation POV.

Particularly, in the mid-century period, EE Schattschneider was probably the single most famous figure in American Political Science, and he used his stature to aggressively argue for what he called "responsible two-party government" wherein each party has a very clear and distinct brand and everyone does what they can to match voters up with parties. You might look at his work and responses to it if you want to see what political scientists in 1955 were thinking about this.


> the hastert rule.

Rather I am surprised to discover that the speaker has so much power in suppressing proposed legislation. How are member of Congress called lawmakers if they are not allowed to propose laws?


They are allowed to propose laws (and amendments to bills). However, the House and Senate leadership has control over the voting schedule.

There are still ways around it (e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discharge_petition), but they are not particularly fast and the legislative calendar is crowded. Worse yet, these measures also stick it to leadership – a plucky Representative has to not just want something, but want it badly enough to embarrass the rest of their party. That’s rare.


> The hastert rule appears to be uniformly evil

Why?

> Because it makes it impossible to govern,

There are at least two approaches to govern while maintaining the rule. First, to bring different points of view closer, which may bring minority to a majority while keeping majority on the other side. It's not easy, of course; it encourages position reformulation, determining the crucial issues etc. - a work for negotiation. Second, one of the party may get majority on the next elections because of the opposition of another party. This approach takes more time, but in general encourages more awareness of positions in the electorate.

Hastert rule had reasons to appear; why it's worse than what it was before that?


The White House and the Pauline Kael Syndrome. Short version: In 1973, all six major US class segments were centrist. Over the next 35 years, five of the segments moved slightly to the right, but "Intellectual Upper Class" moved far out to the left.

https://www.aei.org/publication/the-white-house-and-the-paul...

https://web.archive.org/web/20160221064932/http://heterodoxa...

The essay below makes an outstanding point about polarization. The thesis is that the Western Right's outgroup is people who aren't Westerners. BUT the Western Left's outgroup is the Right. It's the best explanation I've ever heard at this link. A bit long but worth reading every word because it answers SO many questions.

http://archive.is/QRJ6m

[links fixed, I need that extension that auto-archives your bookmarks]


"The leftist elites are out of control" is not even close to a new idea, and it's not exactly an apolitical viewpoint. AEI is hustling goods on this one.

The thesis is plainly wrong (or, at least, wildly incomplete):

+ On most social issues, for example, the country -- all of it -- has moved substantially to the left since 1973. The sort of rhetoric regarding homosexuality that was commonplace 30+ years ago will get you side eyes at all but the most fundamentalist churches these days. Quantitatively, there was a 30 point swing in opinion polling on gay marriage just from 2002 until 2018 [1]. Support for gay marriage was so radical and fringe prior to the 1990s that it wasn't even polled. And even a lot of the early polling in the 90s asked only about "acceptance" rather the marriage. Homosexuals were still being charged with sodomy in the 1980s [2]. It's impossible to understate the shift in opinion on homosexual rights between 1973 to today. And the shift to the left is even more pronounced in gender politics sans abortion. Stuff like [3] is unfathomable today.

+ Ditto drugs.

+ The country has moved substantially to the Left (or, anyways, away from the 1970s Right consensus views) on trade issues. It's easy to forget that pre-NAFTA it was overwhelmingly the leftists who opposed free trade. The development of a left-leaning bloc that is liberal on both immigration policy and trade policy is very much a Clinton-era thing (that, perhaps, might already be in retreat within the Democratic party).

+ And there are a lot of other issues where movement is more leftward than not. E.g., race. Remember that actual segregationists were out of national majorities but still held considerable regional power throughout the 70s, and some even held onto some elected offices into the 21st century. Strom Thurmond was still serving in the US senate in 2003, and his electoral support eroded monotonically throughout the last two decades of the 20th century.

The country hasn't moved to the left on every issue, but saying it's slightly right of where it was in 1973 is, for most of the biggest issues in contemporary politics, absolutely false. It's my experience that discussions of the Pauline Kael Syndrome are mostly ahistorical or even anti-historical. Which is somehow quite ironic.

Also, 2 of your 3 links are broken.

[1] https://www.pewforum.org/fact-sheet/changing-attitudes-on-ga...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowers_v._Hardwick#Background

[3] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/forty-years-ago-wo...


And, sadly, the author of that last link was out-grouped right off the internet.


Anecdote time!

My father thinks that Trump is the best president in 100 years. He thinks that helping the coal industry is great, being tough on immigration and China is too, and so on. He thinks the Left is out to get Trump because they rabidly hate any conservative.

When I talk to him about issues, though, things change. He thinks "no one should die from being poor" - in the context of healthcare. He thinks there should be price controls on drugs, better pricing transparency, and perhaps even price controls on doctor salaries.

I explained to him that "defund the police" can mean different things, but that the moderate, Dem Party version of it involves reallocating funds from police to social services, and reducing the kinds of calls cops get. He said "that's the first time I've heard anyone describe it that way". Despite that being pretty much one of two ways that the entire Left sees the idea, and despite the fact he watches "news" hours a day. (Fox).

When I told him that even the radical "defund" camp doesn't want a total lack of law enforcement, but a total teardown and rebuild of police culture and procedures, he understood! He didn't buy into it 100%, but acknowledged the issues with police corruption, and the idea that good cops who hold others accountable will get run out of the system.

What does this all mean?

He is a victim of far-right media manipulation, and hyperpartisanship. On many of the most pressing issues in this country, he is a Democrat by all accounts. But he sees the "radical left" as part of the big tent, and hears about those boogymen day in and day out, and takes a contrarian view on certain progressive ideas, and boom. Trumpian Republican.

My money on fixing this is to have voting reform that allows new political parties to vibrantly exist, so we can have new parties with a better mixing of ideas.

Coalitions should exist as groups of political parties, not as one big tent.


In defense of your father on "Defund the Police", the last time I checked, the Black Lives Matter's website where the idea was first widely publicized had a release on it that I was hoping would add nuance to the phrase.

It didn't, at all. It actually reinforced an abolition viewpoint. I went to donate to BLM that day from the Airbnb website's banner, and that release caused me to donate my money elsewhere.

This line got me:

"Currently, we are fighting two deadly viruses: COVID-19 is threatening our health. White Supremacy is threatening our existence. And both are killing us every single day."

Plus (see lack of nuance)

"We call for a national defunding of police. We demand investment in our communities and the resources to ensure Black people not only survive, but thrive. If you’re with us, add your name to the petition right now and help us spread the word."

Oddly, Ben Goldacre of the NHS in Britain (I've met him in the past, and he hilariously stated on stage to a bunch of UK business people that anyone in the audience who voted for Brexit was racist.... the reaction was priceless) has a ton of data showing that black people are dying at higher rates of Covid independent of "deprivation" (UK term for poverty). The position on their website is that it's because of systemic racism. In the US, I absolutely think that is partially correct, but due to Goldacres work, I think it's one variable among others contributing. The added "White Supremacy threatening our existence" is absolutely absurd and overwrought. A little over a 1000 people were killed by police in the US last year. 24% of them were black.

https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/nationaltrends

If that is threatening "our existence", then their has been an unprecedented drop in the birth rate for black Americans. (there hasn't been, it's just activists can't do basic statistics and don't care to learn apparently)

https://blacklivesmatter.com/defundthepolice/

Frankly, I think it's intended to be left vague enough to appeal to radicals as well as more centrist types simultaneously.

If somebody from the BLM organization is reading this, I would recommend that they add nuance to the position on their website unless they want to lose voters. My dad was planning on voting for Biden, but the combination of Defund the Police and the removal of Washington/Lincoln/Jefferson statues has pushed him to Trump, who he despises. He lives in a swing state. He tells his friends he's going to vote for Biden, but privately he told me otherwise after calling me about a vandalized Jefferson statue.

For the record, I think that police in the US have become a catch-all for badly needed social services and that reallocating funding is highly desirable.


Don't forget the NYT Op-Ed titled, "Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish The Police"[0]. Which is just as ill-considered as it sounds, and includes certifiably insane arguments like, "What about rape? The current approach hasn’t ended it. In fact most rapists never see the inside of a courtroom. Two-thirds of people who experience sexual violence never report it to anyone. Those who file police reports are often dissatisfied with the response."

[0]https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/opinion/sunday/floyd-abol...


I am not trying to pick a fight. The quote you provided, in and of itself, doesn’t seem certifiably insane. It seems like statements of fact that can be easily verified (or disproven). But assuming the statements are close to accurate, then it doesn’t seem “insane” to conclude that the current system has failed and should be replaced.

Can you help me understand what I am missing?


My apologies, I implied my point rather vaguely instead of just making it outright.

Her statements are certainly true, however they don't support her argument at all--they just attack the status quo. If you read her arguments out of context, would you think that she was arguing for less funding for the system that is failing our women across the country? After all, you can't "redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs" while still funding law enforcement at anywhere near similar levels. Her argument amounts to 'Rape is bad. The system hasn't solved it, so we don't need the system.'

This is dangerous nonsense. If the system is ineffective, it's fine to replace it. But it should be replaced by a system which will give better results. Ms. Kaba provides no evidence that any alternative will give better results. We're expected to gamble the safety of millions of people around the country on a point of progressive dogma.

Ms. Kaba's position reminds me of a parable. In the olden days, as the story goes, a (not so wise) king grew concerned about the plight of his people. Plague was sweeping across the country, killing the poor in droves. The king asked for more information on the problem at hand, and an advisor brought him a table of figures. He reviewed the figures, and saw a correlation! The provinces where the most people were dying were also the provinces where there were the most physicians! The issue was clear; the solution simple. The physicians were clearly the cause of the plague. All he had to do to save his people was get rid of all of the damned physicians.

This 'defund the police' malarkey strikes me as the same kind of unthinking gut reaction.


[flagged]


Democrats in the 80s supported abortion. Trump calls them after birth executions and supported throwing doctors and women in prison. Only walking back the latter when it became clear that even a lot of the right wasn't on the same page.

Dems supported progressive taxation. Trump a life long tax cheat thinks taxation is theft.

Dems in the 80s supported regulations as a prophylaxis for the harm that unregulated free markets would do to our planet and our citizens. Trump believes they are an impediment to profits and ought to be stripped to nothing starting with the ones prohibiting pollution of our environment.

What do you think he has in common with 1980s Democrats?


You really dodge the main point of my post. Trump does not support any "left-wing" legislation, or any traditional 80s/90s neoliberal foreign policy.

For someone to support Trump in 2020, and to support the concepts of universal healthcare and substantial police reform (and acknowledging systemic corruption in police), is completely mind boggling.

I disagree with your worldview that the "left" dislikes Trump for some meta outgroup reason, rather than his abhorrent leadership, destruction of apolitical institutions, and bad policy.


Trump has supported universal healthcare [0] for much longer than he's been against it, and he has quite the ongoing spat over systemic corruption in the nation's top law enforcement agency. [1] The problem is the system provides no path to electability for someone mixing and matching ingroup/outgroup ideals.

[0] https://www.ontheissues.org/2020/Donald_Trump_Health_Care.ht...

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/apr/10/william-barr...


Is his spat because they are corrupt or because they investigate him for corruption? I suppose he would argue they investigate him for corruption because they are corrupt.

However, I have not seen Trump allege any cases of corruption other than investigations of Trump.

In that case, it is not so much corruption as it is political bias. But if that were the case, wouldn’t we see a disproportionate pursuit of other liberal objectives, like corporate malfeasance and voter disenfranchisement?

(Purely anecdotal) Most FBI agents I know are loudly conservative.

Basically, it seems we could A. take Trump at his word that he has not done anything wrong and that thousands of Americans have forsaken their oaths in order to pursue a nefarious plot against a leader for whom many of them voted Or B. let them do their job. If Trump has done nothing wrong, the facts will bear him out.


I would add the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 to your list of reforms that broke Congress. Getting rid of the secret ballot sounds good in theory, but it creates the same hazards as any other public vote - it's easy to verify if the Congressperson you spent thousands lobbying was worth the investment or not.


I recently saw youtube video on that called the cardboard box reform. It caught my eye because I hadn't heard anyone talking about it, but it really makes sense. I don't know how you sell less transparency to the public though.


> For example, if I told you that one party in the US generally favors higher taxes and higher services, and one party generally favors lower taxes and lower services, could you match the party labels to the descriptions, imperfect as they are?

I think there's the obvious answer that most people would give, but I don't think there's great evidence that the policies implemented by the parties strongly matches the conventional wisdom here.


I agree. There is a wide literature in poli sci about principal-agent / contract theory -- what incentive parties and legislators have to actually implement the policies they stand for and how does the incomplete contract of voting actually achieve this (or not). But this is a slightly unrelated question to whether or not people are better at understanding what the parties claim to stand for.


> (Catholics being a huge such group). Now abortion is neatly aligned across party lines: there are almost no pro-choice Republicans and almost no pro-life Democrats.

Catholics have always been, and continue to be, ~50/50 democrat/republican split, give or take a few points. Kennedy, Johnson, and Truman were the only democratic candidates who had >60% Catholic support.


Very well written and well thought out comment. It gave me a new perspective on the traditional conception of partisan politics.


the whole concept of party polarization is a non-sequitur to what's important, and that's how closely our representatives represent our collective interest balanced against the forward-thinking good of the nation. the labels are clearly holding us back, but we dearly want to fit in (be in the party) and be perceived as being in the right, no matter what's good, truthful, moral, generous, patriotic, etc.

the wisdom of the crowds covers this ground too--too much correlated thinking via information cascades often leads to bad decisions and outcomes. you want more independence, even if that increases the number of "wrong" opinions. having more wrong opinions is infinitely better than poor information cascades, as long as they're relatively independent and queried in a statistically sound manner for decision-making.


The problem is that voters often disagree greatly, and the only positive way forward is a compromise, but strong partisan and ideological polarization makes that impossible.


Compromise isn't necessarily a positive way forward. Sometimes there is no way forward but to fight for power and the victors impose their will on the losers.

Look at the compromise of alternating slave and free states to prevent a rupture in U.S. politics in the mid 1800s. It satisfied neither side, and no compromise possibly could have.


but that's more of a problem of leadership, courage, and ultimately fairness. parties are not designed to fix that problem, and we've let the system devolve into this mess so that politicians can concentrate power in the smallest agreeable number of entities (two).


The problem is that when parties are highly polarized, politicians who want to be the sort of leaders you are talking about can't get into leadership positions and often are voted out at the primary election stage.


The problem is that both parties in the US are bought and paid for, and have no real interest in representing the interests of voters.

So-called progressive issues and so-called conservative issues are just attention-seeking window displays designed to farm voter interest.

Policy is controlled by the economic leverage of donors and lobbyists, not by voters, and is enacted to protect the economic interests of donors and lobbyists, not of voters.


at what point does groupthink suddenly flash over into the wisdom of a crowd? is there some kind of dunbar's number at work here?


I think the wisdom of the crowds is predicated on the individual members expressed preferences reflecting their "real" and substantial interests.

But if you apply a selection criteria to members of the crowd or the types of crowd recognized as such, you're likely going to get answers biased toward the selection criteria.

Likewise, to the extent members' expressed preferences reflect abstract arguments (i.e. ideology) rather than their real interests, then other dynamics will control. So, for example, if you go around asking the population detailed questions about their stances on abortion--when it should allowed, when, etc--you're going to get a ton of different answers and any consensus, to the extent there is one, will be sophisticated and nuanced. Ask those same people if they're pro-life or pro-choice and the majority consensus will simply reflect the ebb and flow of the dominate idealogical narratives and be as real and substantive as tallying the number of people who prefer cake vs pie.

In that sense I think Wisdom of the Crowds always had a sort of tautological character to it. And it reflected an optimism about the information age--that it would cut through rather than perpetuate all the complicated and complicating intermediate social layers.


i don't know of a cutoff offhand, but it's not the number of people (like dunbar's) but rather the amount of coordination, or in statistical terms, covariance. there's linear and non-linear considerations, like heteroscedasticity, as well, so it may need to be a set of statistical measures.

in any case, representation itself could benefit a lot from experimentation and innovation. we now have the technological means to implement a direct democracy on the scale of billions of people, something practically impossible only a few decades ago.


It is just mindboggling to me that significant parts of the electorate were and are unable to assign policy positions to the correct party. I hope at least those voters' representatives accurately reflected their wishes irrespective of party labels.

On the one hand, I am lucky enough to have received a great education so these things are clear to me, and not everyone is that lucky. On the other hand, world events are sometimes hinging on voters who don't know what they're voting for.


There has been a recent increase in the amount of literature on voter ignorance; I recommend reading at least one book on the subject, as its level is quite shocking.


A very good comment. I would add that the parties used to be more moderate in part because the Democrats included both Northern liberals and Southern racists, and the Republicans included many Northern liberals. But when the civil rights laws were passed by the Democrats back in 1964 and 5, Southern white racists started a slow process of migrating to the Republicans and the Northern liberals to the Democrats.

Also, changes in the primary system lead to party leaders, who tended to nominate moderates who could win a broad range in the middle, losing power, and the nominating process being taking over by people on both extremes who tend to vote more in primaries than the general public does.


thanks for that. what would you point us to if we were interested in learning political science? (e.g. books, courses, communities, podcasts, blogs, channels?)


My background is academic and so I worry that any recommendations I give will suffer from reflecting that. It's way easier for me to say "spend ten years of your life living and breathing this stuff, it'll clear up your thoughts nicely!" than it is to point to a YouTube channel. CGP Grey sometimes does very 101 level topics on electoral systems, but very little on what I'd call the political science of representation or US-specific institutions.

My advice, if you want to get a sense for the academic lay of the land is to try an Intro to US Politics course at any college that is well ranked, and to follow currently active professors from research universities on Twitter. Often by reading today's journal articles, you a) get a sense for new findings, and b) get a sense for whose shoulders they stand on, and where they come from. And academics do a shitty job of sharing these ideas with the public. I do read Andrew Gelman's blog, but he's a social science statistician and so mostly he's working on quant methods and not substantively interesting questions.

The main journals in US politics are: American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, Journal of Politics.

I checked the syllabus of my first graduate level American Politics class from, err, a fair few years ago now. Here are some of the canonical books I'd recommend that speak to the kinds of questions I study:

- Anthony Downs: An Economic Theory of Democracy - John Zaller: Nature and Origins of Public Opinion - David Mayhew: Congress The Electoral Connection - Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal: Ideology and Congress - Keith Krehbiel: Information and Legislative Organization - Mathew McCubbins and Gary Cox: Setting the Agenda (or their other book, Legislative Leviathan, both great)

These speak to some of the biggest theoretical and measurement considerations in American Politics and Representation. All of them should be readable without prior college experience. I will note that I just offered you like 5,000 pages of book that will probably take a year to get through.

Hope some of this provides a useful jumping off point.


How about, polarization is highly compressive and humans have limited time and mental resources to devote to the many competing concerns they encounter.

Those issues that they sense are important in some broad abstract game of value creation and control, but that don't have an obvious impact on their immediate sense of agency or leverage, get heavily and "lossily" compressed into extreme min-max caricatures or silhouettes as a heuristic compromise between the infinite nuance/complexity rabbit-hole of rigorous intellectual honesty and very finite human capacity for attention.


Disappointed to not see any mention of ranked choice voting. I think the winner takes all system leads to a two-party duopoly and makes it difficult for intermediate positions to win.

P.S: Yes, I know Australia has ranked choice and they also have problems. Of course it's not a panacea, there are other problems like the role of money in politics. But it will be better than what we have today, and should reduce polarization considerably over time IMO.


Harvard Business Review podcast had an interesting take on this which suggested that the party-aligned primary system was the main cause. They applied Porter's 5 Forces to politics and suggested ranked choice voting would be one of the main ways to break to duopoly.

https://hbr.org/podcast/2020/06/applying-porters-five-forces...


It makes sense right? It's so ridiculous to see Biden and Bernie battle it out in "Stage 1", and then only one of them gets to go against Trump. Instead of Biden, Bernie and Trump and everyone else just run together in a race as it should really be. We might have even had a better person on the Republican side in this case.


Maybe every four years we switch between FPTP and RC


Ranked choice voting is always a semi-poisoned subject because of the IRV adherents' insistence on calling IRV "ranked choice voting". Ranked choice voting is preference capturing mechanism that yields very valuable data. IRV is one of many possible counting implementations.


Isn't the problem that although rank-based systems have many desirable properties, they are particularly prone to strategic voting and manipulation? I personally think they are good in cooperative settings where voters have no strong incentive to vote strategically, but are they really so desirable for adversarial situations like national elections?


>they are particularly prone to strategic voting and manipulation?

IRV and AV are particularly prone to strategic voting. Amusingly, the best catalog of IRV's failures is generally provided by AV proponents, and the best catalog of AV problems can be found on FairVote.org.

The ranked-choice systems which satisfy a criterion called ISDA -- independence of Smith-dominated alternatives, or more poignantly, independence of losers -- are harder to manipulate. These are all "Condorcet" methods, because ISDA is a generalization of Condorcet.

ISDA means roughly that if a candidate is not in contention to win (the "Smith set"), it doesn't matter where they appear on your ballot. I could rank Vermin Supreme and Ron Paul #1 and #2 and the algorithm basically cancels it out and starts me at #3. The reason that ISDA is so effective at preventing strategic voting is that in order to vote strategically, I have to misrank a candidate who might actually win; in other words, I must accept a realistic risk of encouraging an outcome I don't really want. That's a pretty good disincentive, in my opinion.

However, the worry about strategic voting seems to be at least a little overblown. Australia does deal with "how-to-vote" cards[1], but this is a way to prevent "allied" parties from accidentally competing with each other. In 2009, there was concern over a monotonicity violation in Australian elections where supporters of one of the parties were encouraged to misrank another party. However, the voters didn't go along with the plan, and instead voted honestly:

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/howtovote-cards-...

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-05-04/an-example-of-non-mon...


I suppose you could extend that all the way back past the practice of voting... ultimately democratic voting isn't as good as some kind of scalable deliberative consensus mechanism that educates people, but we don't have one of those. But anyway, there's also a lot of misinformation out there about voting methods. For instance, most sources say that all Condorcet methods are flawed, but that's because they conflate Condorcet counting with the various tie-breaking methods when there are cycles. The latter can be flawed, but the former is not. If there's a Condorcet winner, it doesn't run afoul of Arrow's theorem or anything. The main "flaw" with a Condorcet winner is that you can have a Condorcet winner without that candidate having "majority approval", depending on how you measure "approval".


I believe it's the other way around.

Good rank-based systems are less prone to strategic voting and manipulation than plurality voting (= an ordinary vote), because each voter can safely put their preferred candidate first, even if that candidate is unlikely to win, without harming the chances of their next-preferred candidate.

They don't need to vote strategically to try to keep someone they particularly dislike out.

The no-so-good rank-based systems are less effective at this separation (though no system can be perfect at it), so people still vote strategically of course. But the pressure to do so is still reduced compared with plurality. Plurality is probably the worst of all options for pressuring people to vote strategically.


> The ever-deepening rift between the political left- and right-wing has long been puzzling theorists in political science and opinion dynamics

I feel like people who make this claims are in one of two camps. One is the camp that just wants to ignore that the 60s or 70s even happened, to refuse to acknowledge that the polarization we see now is extremely mild in comparison.

The other camp believes that we can measure the polarization using some insane metrics that purport to indicate how polarized society is, but really just measure the opinion of the people collecting the metrics through increasingly inane measures, like literal telephone polling that attempts to extrapolate from "people who use landlines routinely and either are willing to answer unknown caller calls or don't have caller id" to "all people".

The latter camp is extremely insidious and I implore you to remember the last time someone used metrics to prove something clearly false and assume that everyone is doing the same thing, just Gell-Mann amnesia is preventing you from seeing it.


People are polarized because they don't like being not polarized isn't really a theory, it's a tautology.


My wife has a cup that she got as a gift from somebody she cares about. It's not a very good looking cup, it can't be microwaved, and it has to be hand-washed. She never uses it, it just sits in the closet. She has this cup not because she wants it but because she can't come to terms with not wanting it, with getting rid of it. Maybe you can vaguely summarize the situation as her wanting this cup, but that misses a lot of nuance.


That's like the greek term 'akrasia', which is the gap between who we want to be and who we behave as. It gives lie to those phrases like "Tell Me How Your Spend Your Time, I'll Tell You What You Value Most," and other pseudo-accountability philosophies. Akrasia exists, and the more people accept it, the better, as it helps us properly fashion regulation, addiction policy, etc.


I concur, you wife not-not wanting the cup is not a satisfying explanation for why she keeps the cup. Likewise not-not wanting to be polarized is not a satisfying explanation for why people are polarized.


Still not a tautology though; not-not wanting does not mean wanting.


Only because in your example wanting != wanting, which is an unfortunate consequence of the language not having a good word to differentiate between the desire to possess something and the desire not to be rid of it.

-(-A) == A, when A == A, is a tautology though.


Still not true, for instance if A is "proven". If A is not not proven, it doesn't mean it is proven; it can still be a hypothesis. And yet, proven == proven.


> If A is not not proven, it doesn't mean it is proven; it can still be a hypothesis.

Are you sure?

It seems to me if A is not not-proven, it is surely proven.

If A is still just a hypothesis, then it is not-proven, and isn't not not proven.


> If A is not not proven, it doesn't mean it is proven; it can still be a hypothesis.

Are you sure?

It seems to me if A is not not-proven, it is surely proven.

If A is still just a hypothesis, then it is not-proven.


She wants that cup as remainder of the person that gave her the cup and as a show of respect toward that person.

She wants that concerete cut.


That's a stretch. Conversationally, the implication of your sentence has real meaning - it's not redundant, despite sounding verbally repetitive.


Masses attract because they are attracted to eachother is not a theory of gravity, it's a restatement of the givens. People are polarized because they polarize is likewise a restatement of the givens. That people don't like being non-polarized is inferred from the observation that they are polarized, the same way that the attractive property of masses is inferred from the observation of masses that have been attracted. Theories explain observations, and predict what ought to be observed beyond the data used in their formulation. There is no explanatory power of how or why people polarize, nor any testable prediction made by the model.


> Masses attract because they are attracted to eachother is not a theory of gravity, it's a restatement of the givens.

Newton's theory of gravity had been dominating for a several centuries. It states literally this, masses attract because they are attracted. Despite of this it is a very valuable theory even now.

> Theories explain observations, and predict what ought to be observed beyond the data used in their formulation.

A very good theories manage to combine good explanations with a predictive power. But there are countless examples of theories which could give either explanation or predictive power. Moreover there are theories which manage neither explanations nor predictions, but something else. For example they can be used as an data structure for storing and retrieving facts: Carl Linnaeus devised the Linnean taxonomy, which directed biological research for a long time, even there were nor explanations nor predictions.

I'm not sure though, maybe I'm stretching the term "theory" a little? But if we asked functions of Linnean taxonomy in times before Darwin, then we'd find that it's functions were functions of a theory: to collect and to classify facts and to drive research.


Everyone who has ever lived knew that things fell to the ground; Newton's theory of gravity describes how. It makes testable predictions which were subsequently verified. That's why Newton gets his name on it and all those billions that came before him didn't. Knowing that things fall is not the same as knowing what causes them to fall.

Linnean taxonomy makes the very powerful implicit prediction that similar looking animals are related in some way to one another. While it would be many decades more before the mechanism of those relations were explained, the recognition that, for example, a dog and a wolf are the same type of thing was in and of itself non-obvious.

What I think you are trying to describe is a model, which is a system of understanding information without necessarily explaining it.


Yes, but Newton's insight was that the ground has mass too, and that things fall because masses are attracted to each other.

Before that, people knew things fell down, but it hadn't occurred to them that this was caused by masses attracting each other, or that the ground is being attracted to the falling object.


> Knowing that things fall is not the same as knowing what causes them to fall.

A lot of prominent contemporaries of Newton critisized Newton for a "magic" explanation of gravity. How Jupiter knows a mass of Sun, to be attracted to it with a proper force? We learn Newton's theory in a school when we are not developed mentally enough to question Newton's theory, so we just accept it as an authority gives it to us. Then we become accustomed to it and it feels ok to Jupiter to know mass of Sun, so we do not question it when becoming wiser. But it is a stupid thing really. Einstein's explanation with the bent space-time is much better.

I do not mean to mock Newton, to state that he was wrong and his critics were right. I'm trying to say that the lack of explanation is not a fatal thing for a theory. Critics of Newton were right, but Newton was right also.

The real achievement of Newton is to 'trivialization' of a problem, he picked mass as a leading factor and ignored all other possible factors, like brightness, size, visible size on the sky, albedo, inner structure, material, density, etc. Newton picked mass, wrote his law, and managed to prove that Kepler's law could be derived from Newton's law.

The discussed theory of political polarization do a very similar thing: it picks just one factor and describes facts with it, ignoring a lot of other factors. It is trivialization of a problem. I didn't thoroughly read the article, but it seems for me that authors propose a quantitative measures of a polarization and their model is able to predict them. They do worse than Newton because they didn't invent a whole new branch of math to prove that other models could be derived from their's. But does it makes their achievement nonexistent?

> the recognition that, for example, a dog and a wolf are the same type of thing was in and of itself non-obvious.

I'm not sure about this. The trouble is I was born at the era when the relation between a dog and a wolf was obvious. Maybe this make it impossible to me to believe that this couldn't be obvious. It seems for me that it is obvious that similar species are similar. Even if we do not state explicitly that they are related, we feel it already, so when stated it feels obvious. The non-obvious is when dissimilar species are related.

So I don't know was it obvious that a dog and a wolf are the same type, though I could make a testable prediction to check it: if Linnaean taxonometry was non-obvious, than there had to be an outrage of contemporaries. Only obvious things are accepted by everyone.

> What I think you are trying to describe is a model, which is a system of understanding information without necessarily explaining it.

Yes, almost. One small correction: it is not understanding, it is just a mnemonic, which makes it relatively easy to file information and to retrieve it. The resulting understanding is a 'fake' one, people feel it like they understand, but really there are no understanding behind this feeling.


People are fit because they don't like being not fit. Except it isn't true.

I do not see a meaningful difference between taking actions to become fit and choosing stances that are polarized, therefore that would imply this is not a tautology.


> People are fit because they don't like being not fit. Except it isn't true.

I've never met anyone who was fit but really wanted not to be.

> I do not see a meaningful difference between taking actions to become fit and choosing stances that are polarized

If you accept the theory that people polarize simply because they innately seek to be in a polarized state, then that would imply polarization is the default state that people approach without any effort on their part. Becoming fit requires active and continuous work to eat healthy and exercise. They are polar opposites of one another.

> therefore that would imply this is not a tautology.

That orange != orange does not imply that apple == apple is not a tautology.


Speak for yourself. This polarization distresses me.


Great discussion of this topic on the media criticism podcast Citations Needed last week. "How 'Polarization' Discourse Flattens Power Dynamics and Says Nothing" https://soundcloud.com/citationsneeded/episode-112-how-polar...


I like this article a lot and would like to see it expanded upon further. Based on their visuals and explanation (without seeing equations) it looks like they've modelled an individual's political alignment based on a number of orthogonal issues and based on how they see their peers. So if there were 3 issues (examples used were marijuana legalization, gay marriage and income tax) then there are 4 forces acting on each person - marijuana legalization, gay marriage, income tax, and pressure from peers.

But their model could be expanded to account for people who are single issue extremists (e.g. a dot that isn't pulled to other dots but does pull other dots towards it), randomness or irrationallity (dots suddenly jumping, possibly to be pulled back or possibly not), and in general more variance in the weight of the force for each individual.

Side note: Is there a field of political science that builds and works off of statistical models similar to how they did in this article? I know that basically the entire field of economics does this, but what about political science?


There are plenty of thoroughly competent, talented, quantitatively oriented PoliSci researchers. Relative to other social sciences it can be less straightforward to be productive with quantitative methods ... there are cases where quant methods shine, the field needs more of it IMO, but the field can’t be reduced to that kind of scholarship alone.


Balance is a good beginner philosophy, but adults need to do better. Most things are orthogonal, nothing really balances it out, and it appears from this article that peoples obsession with balance is also a self destructive obsession with opposites.

At this point, any time the word balance comes up as an answer, my mind jumps towards "paradox" as a means to nip that fallacy in the bud.


The article seems to map how the differences effect the overlapping issues in peoples existing ontologies. We're all aware that abortion exists and generally have an opinion about whether it is an individual and social good, which would fall into this ontology mapping. We are not all aware of discrimination, since it's noticed mainly by the people who experience it - which would be a gap between ontologies that has more to do with polarization than how people view the same object.

Polarization itself is the resistance to understanding. It isn't a rational phenomenon. We could use quantitative polarization models as post-hoc explanatory metaphors, but as a model with predictive power, I think literary narrative depictions will still provide more foresight. There is very little new under the sun.

The question from me would be, what might these models credibly predict that reasoning through with tools from psychology, history, economics, or even game theories could not provide in a more reliable and accurate way?


This is the kind of stuff when you get when you don't know anything about historical materialism.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_materialism

Historical materialism is the idea that politics comes from changes in the material conditions of a population. When people need something and aren't getting it, then they meet others in the same situation and compare notes, then you get a political formation.

The United States is refusing to adapt to the needs of the bottom strata of society, and as they learn they can't change the system by voting or protesting, more and more radical steps are taken until the goals of the majority of people will be achieved. The refusal of the government to give even an inch is causing this to happen. Just look at the Bernie Sanders campaign that was talking about state funded medical care for all people, how popular it was and is, and how the DNC merc'd it.

Then we had a pandemic happen that showed definitively how beneficial that policy would be, and the state still refuses to lift a finger to help anyone other than the business community with the exception of a paltry one time $1200 and some unemployment benefits. It took pushing to get Joe Biden to even call for free testing let alone free care!

Edit: To be clear, my objection to this paper is that even though it is authored by physicists, people who should have a clear understanding of materialism (!!) they merely build computer models of ideas, and in that they are merely pontificating on liberal idealism. Their models will be flawed because ideas only "catch" when they find fertile soil. That soil is material reality.


Agreed. It must be a strange time to be alive for people who are not Marxists! Today's political polarization in the US is rooted in the 08 financial crisis, followed by a weak recovery, combined with skyrocketing inequality, and now a pandemic absolutely mishandled by the US administration, plus now a new recession! How could we expect people's political views to stay the same after such experiences?


Isn't this just Marxism with all the Marxist theory about class struggle rephrased into plain conflict theory language and de-jargonified?


Yes. It's much more understandable that way (and I don't have a useless Marxist academic position to justify). Frankly, I find it rather difficult to disagree with the premise of historical materialism.

You can disagree with Marx's conclusions about which factors were important, but the basic assumption seems solid. The major exception that comes to mind where ideas might dominate material need is a situation present in the US today where the media so dominantly control narrative, they have been able to mostly squeeze other ideas out of the discourse. This is sort of like fighting entropy, possible, but requires extra energies to do.

I hadn't heard of conflict theory before, so thanks for the tip.


interesting to note that the guy who coined the word 'sociology' (Comte) originally wanted to call his theory 'Social Physics,' but his rivals had already claimed that term for different theories.


Is there a link to read this anywhere? The one I found in the article was broken.

There's really no way to evaluate this argument on the basis of this article. Do we need to wait until it's published tomorrow?



Politics is much more nuanced than Left and Right. Plus, a person can have multiple identities depending the question to vote on. So, while it's interesting to correlate emotion with voting outcomes, it still assumes that Far Left and Far Right are different people, instead of schizophrenic blobs as they actually are. At least that is an alternative way of looking at it. This assumes people are consistent in their personal views, and I find that to be a very dubious claim.


This article made me think of the graphics in this piece from WaPo: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/04/23/a-stu...

Ever since coming across that visualization a few years ago I've been thinking about it. I wonder what the endgame is.


So, they built a model for polarization. I read through the article a couple times, but maybe I missed it - I don't see what predication this model makes that can be useful or can test it.

The article also implies that being on a political team is the only reason for polarization. Maybe that's a big part of it, but it seems to me that ignoring incompatible world views is uncharitable to all involved, and almost certainly a way to increase misunderstanding.


A recent HBR IdeaCast episode on political polarization. They viewed our political climate through the lens of industry competition and came to many similar conclusions.

[1] https://hbr.org/podcast/2020/06/applying-porters-five-forces...


The paper doesn't help to answer: Why now? The model it proposes would have produced high polarization any time, but polarization is much higher now than 40 years ago...

If the model could help us analyze the dynamics of polarization it would be helpful. As a static analysis it is just a fairly obvious application of cognitive dissonance.


Wait But Why has been releasing a long series of posts on the current polarized era. I've found them insightful: https://waitbutwhy.com/2019/08/story-of-us.html


This is interesting mathematically... but false empirically.

The forces behind modern political polarization are extremely well-known and well-documented in political science, and they are:

1) The awareness by political parties that extreme views motivate extreme voters to vote, more than moderate views motivate moderate voters to vote, therefore parties and candidates are being pushed further away from the center than decades ago

2) Political primaries are now democratic, so less centrist candidates are being selected than from when candidates were selected by party leadership

3) The awareness by the media that politically polarized coverage is more popular than centrist/balanced coverage, thus the rise of right-wing and left-wing news

It really is that simple. Potential solutions include making voting mandatory (like Australia and many other countries) so extreme views aren't used to drive turnout, various strategies like eliminating primaries and using ranked voting for elections instead (allowing multiple candidates from all parties), and well there isn't really much we can do about the media, but if parties and candidates aren't pushing the polarization as much, the media probably won't as much either.


> using ranked voting for elections instead (allowing multiple candidates from all parties)

Some variation of ranked voting is the one thing I truly want to see in electoral laws. Still it is not the only way to easily allow for multiple candidates. Candidates could register in coalitions such that people chose either just the coalition or the coalition and a candidate and then the coalition with most votes wins and in that coalition the candidate with most votes wins.

This would potentially devolve into keeping some token candidates to capture fringe voters, but at least you would have to pretend for longer that they are indeed a serious candidate.


> Political primaries are now democratic, so less centrist candidates are being selected than from when candidates were selected by party leadership

That's not true at all. At least on the Democrat side. The party chooses the nominee, not the people.

"The DNC, led by Wasserman Schultz, Admitted In Court they Rigged Primaries Against Sanders"

>A Federal Judge dismissed the lawsuit after DNC attorneys argued that the DNC would be well within their rights to rig primaries and select their own candidate.

http://observer.com/2017/08/court-admits-dnc-and-debbie-wass...

"DNC Lawyers Argue No Liability: Neutrality Is Merely a ‘Political Promise'"

https://observer.com/2016/10/dnc-lawyers-argue-no-liability-...


Isn't that a gross misstatement of the ruling? I'm not even a lawyer and it seems to be saying that when making a motion to dismiss, you assume the plaintiff's argument is true and then see if the case has merit.

So the ruling saying "even if the argument is hypothetically true, we can dismiss the case" is not the same as saying, "the argument is true".


> The party chooses the nominee, not the people.

Compared to many other countries, this is only true in a very weak sense in the US. What do I have to do to have a vote in a D or R primary? "Register as a D (or R)". That's it. Nothing more. I don't have to actually join an organization, let alone pay anything or play any role in the party other than this vote. That's fairly different from (for example) the UK, where you have to be an "actual member" of the party to help choose a nominee.


That's quibbling over details, or the exception that proves the rule.

Candidate selection used to be a backroom affair. Now it's an open democratic process.

Party leadership obviously has their favorites, and can certainly try to push voters a certain way. But at the end of the day, people are still voting in primaries. Yes there are superdelegates too, like there's also an electoral college.

But political primaries are based on voting by the people now. They weren't before. That's the point.


> the exception that proves the rule.

Off-topic: I was presented with the argument that this sentence should be taken to mean "this is the exception that shows the rule [as in law] is needed" rather than "this is the exception that the rule [as in inference/deduction] is correct".

I have not looked into whether this interpretation is historically true, but it makes much more sense.


That's a great point, however, I don't think it challenges the findings, rather, your points go some way to explaining some of the drivers.

I should add the Elephant in the Room because nobody has yet - which is social media:

Twitter and Facebook are 'primary drivers' of this division, because of 1) the pervasiveness of content 2) the low quality, non-factual nature of the memes and 3) the natural polarisation of such memes.

More controversially, 'campus politicisation' is another primary factor. Students have been protesting for some time, but now the Faculty, Staff, Students, Student Unions and government grand associations act in concert to promote what they see are important issues, but which really represent a politicisation of the situation.

There are innumerable cases, but just one anecdote: The University of Ottawa recently banned the Yoga class because of concerns over 'cultural appropriation'. Never mind the fact that 'Hatha Yoga' in the North American terms was literally created by Hindu leaders as a form of their theology more amenable to Westerners in the first place. The replacement Yoga teacher was of 'Indian' origin, of course. Nobody complained, rather, someone on faculty out of either fear or oppression decided that it would be the case.

Finally, and maybe most controversially because its more subtle - is the politicisation of corporate culture and brands. It's one thing to have internal dialogue and programs, this is fine and good, but when they're hustling products based on highly visceral movements ... it's going to help stoke division.

It's not well understood by most people that products and services are sold mostly on the basis of emotional aspiration. Nike has great shoes, but that's not what drives sales. They didn't really make money until they had 'Michael Jordan' on their shoes, after which, they made bank. Starbucks sells a total commodity: coffee - what they really sell is a brand and an experience. Right down to the naming of the water 'Ethos' as in 'I'm ethical for drinking this water'.

But the recent foray of brands into taking sides on social issues, which many who are supportive of such issues might admire, should be viewed cynically: in the end, they're just trying to sell you some crap. If you 'feel strongly about this issue' - and they can map those emotions into sales by 'siding with you' - they're going to do that to make money. Again this is separate from things like material action such as ethical supply chains etc., but when Nike pays people in Vietnam 50 cents an hour who can't take a bathroom break to make 100 shoes a day, and then sells them to you for $200 'because they care about this issue' - we should be cynical. This action contributes to increasing polarisation.

In a way, some political issues are 'metastasising' into so many areas it's getting to be like the Twilight Zone.


Just started reading Mark Blyth's Angrynomics, which talks about this topic a lot. I really recommend it to everyone, it's short, and it's an excellent synthesis of psychology and political economy.


Somehow these remind me of Ising machines, where our neighbors align us and heat randomly flips us. Except we recoil at the extremism of the extremes to settle further into our current position.


I think disinformation has an information-theoretic advantage over factual information when consumed by someone who can't tell which is which.


> It ultimately ends in total polarization," illustrates co-author David Garcia

Actually, I think it's more likely to end with violent conflict between the groups.

The horsheshoe theory simply won't die[1]. At this point in time the extremes have more in common with one another than they do with the center.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horseshoe_theory#:~:text=In%20....


One might hope that a common enemy (say, a virus with no known vaccine) would act to reduce polarisation in a society.


It has done that in most societies across the world.

Except in one country that is heading into elections this year.


I'd put more of the blame on the leader with no interest in uniting a nation under threat.


Who also doesn't want to mess up his face makeup with a mask.


It did that here in the US too, for a few weeks.

Imagine if the worst parts of 2008 financial crisis had started in March rather than September.


The virus is hard to personify. People want human scapegoats. That's why the politics is so vicious.


Correction: Some want to enrich themselves by lying about others, then firing them, or opposite sequence.


Many people don't see COVID as a crisis anymore with better numbers out now and if anything saw people become more self center rather than coming together in this time of trouble.


Many people are being told that COVID is a liberal hoax.


Well it's not a hoax, let's try not to make this political please.

Outside of that, the statistics are evolving and so should our conversations.


Who are these people, and who is telling them that? Cite sources.


Qanon is iirc, they can twist everything into a liberals caused catastrophe

This is one of their main sites: https://qmap.pub if you are up for some grooming as it may be called


I love how real horshoe theory actually is because no one actually thinks it's legitimate but it really did properly describe politics until 1945...

The Nazis and communists had a lot in common in 1930's Nazi Germany. They even made jokes about how often people switched parties...

"In some cities, the numeral strength of party-switching beefsteak Nazis was estimated to be large. Rudolf Diels (the head of the Gestapo from 1933 to 1934) reported that "70 percent" of the new SA recruits had been Communists in the city of Berlin"

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beefsteak_Nazi


You mean like, right after nazi took power and moved to violently suppress all opposition?

Yep, many many people joined at that particular opportune moment and it has zero to do with ideological closeness. Which did angered hard liners and true believers. Through I doubt the 70% number.

(And yes communist were violent too, which would made them suitable for SA. They were not that ideologically close nor they shared demographics.).


It's because prior to the Rohm Purge ( the correct name for the "night of the long knives"), the SA and parts of the Nazi Party ran by Ernest Rohm took the "Socialism" part of the 'National Socialist" name seriously. This is what led him to be purged.

The Nazis and their corporate backers (IG Faben, Messerschmidt, etc) did NOT like the idea of socialists being in power and gave Hitler an ultimatum which lead to the "Socialist" part of the platform being de-facto abandoned by 1934.


People for slavery and against slavery definitely are both extremists and deserve to be treated in the same breath.


Interesting article. Any fans of A Conflict of Visions? That tends to be the theory that makes the most sense to me.


This is trivial to the point of tautology.


> It ultimately ends in total polarization," illustrates co-author David Garcia (CSH and MedUni Vienna). Not only do people categorically favor or oppose single issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and nuclear energy. "If they are pro-choice, they are at the same time highly likely to be for gay marriage, against the use of nuclear energy, for the legalization of marijuana, and so on," says Garcia. The possible variety of combinations of different opinions is reduced to the traditional left-right split.

This is an interesting observation, because while we think of all these things as related ideologically, they aren’t necessarily. For example, both Denmark and New Zealand have liberal new Prime Ministers who are women, pro-LGBT, pro-welfare state, and quite strongly anti-immigration. (New Zealand’s PM, Jacinda Ardern, has received very positive media coverage in the U.S., but is part of a ruling coalition with the “New Zealand First” Party, such that her deputy PM is an anti-immigration right-winger.) So the issues on which the “left” and “right” have formed coalitions aren’t necessarily ideological but are to some extent the artifact of history.


> we think of all these things as related ideologically, they aren’t necessarily.

I have to fight this tendency in myself: I'm as anti-liberal as they come, but I do happen to agree with a handful of "liberal" positions such as abortion, drug legalization and immigration. But from time to time I catch myself disagreeing with the messenger so much I almost forget I actually agree with the message.


How strange, as I’m the opposite. I’m about as anti-conservative as they come: UBI, legalize almost everything, universal healthcare and insurance, but I’m extremely against abortion.


You are in an unenviable position, because the Democratic Party has all but said that you can't be both a Democrat and pro-life.

There is a minor party called the American Solidarity Party that is a little more of a mix, similar to Christian democratic parties in Europe. They oppose abortion and the death penalty but support universal health care, environmental protections, stricter regulation of financial markets, etc.


> You are in an unenviable position

Yep, it doesn’t seem to be a common position, for sure.

I have heard of the American Solidarity Party and like some of their viewpoints, but I think that any consenting adults should be able to have a relationship (and the corresponding legal benefits). I also don’t like the religious motivations behind many of the arguments of the ASP; my views against abortion are secular in nature, and I think the religious arguments probably hurt the pro-life movement as a whole.


It's possible to be against abortion and be willing to compromise on it because there are much more important issues for you to consider.

Political parties like to pretend they have monopolies on certain positions, but that's just wrong. You'll find lots of gay rights-supporting Republicans and a whole mess of pro-gun Democrats. Some voters are rational enough to realize that they should put more weight on the issues that directly effect them than the nice-to-have emotional stuff that doesn't.


There should be "Real Solidarity Party" which takes no position other than to be favor of ranked choice voting (or similar).

Without this, it makes absolutely no difference what the platform is of the Greens, the Libertarians, the Solidarity Party, or any other 3rd party: they can only work as spoilers in an election.

Get us to an electoral system in which the winning D or R candidate is faced with knowing that 40% of their vote came from people whose first choice was the Communo-Anarchist Party, and another 10% from people who preferred the "White Power Now" party, and you're going to see a totally different sort of politics.


I wonder if we just spent a single term governing by referendum where we would land. It’s probably not sustainable but it might be interesting to see what surfaces.


It sounds like you lean libertarian. Do you identify that way, or do you consider yourself a conservative?


I've voted libertarian in every U.S. election since 1996, so there's that ; )


When ideas and opinions are heavily correlated, it's a sign of unhealthy coordination and lack of democracy. Voter turnover is not enough, you also need informed decisionmaking and true representation.


one also needs to be careful with terms such as being "anti-immigration" in relative context.

For example even the Danish right-wing populists, in 2016, supported Clinton over Trump[1]. Same for Germany's AfD, a party that in Germany has evoked comparisons to our not so democratic past, but their immigration policy is by their own declaration "a Canada style merit based system". New Zealand, with a quarter of the population being immigrants, has much higher immigration levels relatively than the US, and events like the migrant crisis tend to temporarily create more extreme responses given how small the country is.

[1]https://www.economist.com/img/b/1280/559/90/sites/default/fi...


I think what broke the political dialog in this country is the whole hearted embrace of the association fallacy[1]. For example. I was talking with someone about COVID-19 and why it could have been released from a lab accidentally. The person I was talking with then accused me of believing in conspiracy theories. I then said many prominent people such as Tom Cotton and Mike Pompeo said this theory is credible. She then said that those are Trump supporters and "you know what those people are like." I said, no what? and then she said "They're like Timothy Mcvae" they are extremists. Implying that I was like Timothy Mcvae for believing ideas that Trump supporters also held.

I then, to show her the flaw in her reasoning, played guilt by association with her. That people denying this are parroting CCP propaganda and the CCP does all this horrible stuff. Why do you support all that horrible stuff? She got very emotional and burst into tears at the accussation.

I then explained the association fallacy, we made up and moved to other topics of conversation. However, this is a good percentage of arguments on reddit and most political forums and mainstream news. The association fallacy over and over and over again.

Nobody wants to have an information producing argument they just want to find out what team you're on by comparing your beliefs to "bad people" and "good people" and seeing which one you match the most with and then accusing you of being them.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_fallacy


> I then said many prominent people such as [American politicians who stand to benefit from people supporting certain foreign policy positions] said this theory is credible.

Maybe that's the potential weakness in your reasoning she was trying to pick up on.

> She got very emotional and burst into tears at the accussation. I then explained the association fallacy,

I hope you also apologized.

Apart from that, I think your observation is mostly correct.


I'm not sure why it matters if prominent people believe in what is ostensibly a conspiracy theory. Alex Jones was prominent, but that doesn't mean chemicals in the water are turning frogs gay for example. In fact you should be placing more scrutiny on prominent people (politicians especially) for pushing such a thing, because usually they have an agenda they're trying to push.

The fact that you chose to accuse someone of denying such a thing as parroting CCP propaganda indicates either your story is entirely fake or you're just an asshole.


Funnily enough, Alex Jones' statement is mostly true:

"Hayes and his colleagues raised 40 male African clawed frogs in water containing atrazine, from when they were larvae all the way up until sexual maturity. The atrazine levels were about what the frogs would experience in environments where the pesticide is used, and below levels that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for drinking water.

They compared this atrazine-exposed group with 40 other male frogs reared in atrazine-free water.

At the end of the experiment, all frogs in the atrazine-free group remained male, while 10 percent of the frogs exposed to atrazine were completely feminized — their genes said they should be male, but they had female anatomy, including ovaries. The feminized frogs were able to mate with males and produce viable eggs."

https://www.livescience.com/10957-pesticide-turns-male-frogs...


"The fact that you chose to accuse someone of denying such a thing as parroting CCP propaganda indicates either your story is entirely fake or you're just an asshole."

I was using her reasoning to make a ludicrous argument similar to the one she made to show her the flaw in the argument and her method of reasoning. I don't actually believe that and made it clear to her when I explained the association fallacy. The only way to argue against someone using a fallacious arguing technique, which can be used to prove anything, is to use that arguing technique to prove the opposite or something ridiculous.


I mean, you countered her reasoning by committing multiple fallacies of your own. You strawmanned her ('That people denying this are parroting CCP propaganda and the CCP does all this horrible stuff.') and did an appeal to authority ('I then said many prominent people such as Tom Cotton and Mike Pompeo said this theory is credible'). You did so in a way that was enough to make her cry by your own admission.


Whenever I see a person use a fallacy I immediately use that fallacy against them. When she said the thing was a "conspiracy theory" that's essentially an appeal to authority that no one in authority believes that argument. When she compared me to a terrorist, that's an association fallacy, so I used that argument. Arguing against a fallacious reasoner is pointless, the only thing you can do is instruct them in proper reasoning.


The thing about Alex Jones is that he takes about 18 hours of reading and condenses it into about 7 words.

Turning the frogs gay

Evidence suggests that pharmaceuticals are making their way into waste water and altering the hormones of amphibious animals.

They're reading all our emails

The NSA turned off encryption methods on American communications, which were previously in place, after 9/11 with the implementation of the patriot act

Interdimensional space vampires

Elites believe that the world was 'seeded' by aliens, they are pagans who have two kinds of holidays. Those that require sexual sacrifice, and those that require blood.

Parroting communist propaganda? Remember the "dotard" remark that was literal propaganda and was picked up and parroted by people who knew better?


The otherside are villains,not their ideas but the people themselves. I am not going to say that view is incorrect but it is incompaible with the preservation of a democracy.

For example, I have a hard time accepting a neo-nazi should be allowed to live when capital punishment is a thing. I wouldn't kill a neo-nazi because I don't think capital punishment is the right way, but I still think it should be considered a very serious crime. Things like free speech should not be used to tolerate nazi or confederate flags and a nazi salute should get you prison time, just like in Germany. I think both with privacy and free speech, Germans have learned a good lesson after the nazis.

Either way, it is incompatible with democracy for me to think millions of my fellow citizens should be free. So, my opinion is, polarization is normal, polarized views like white supremacy and leftist anti-religion propaganda (you have no idea how much restraint it takes to not act violently against someone blatantly mocking and disrespecting your religion!) are themselves wrong. It's not the polarizarion that's wrong,it's just a symptom. The problem is we have too many people (self included) that were not raised to be decent human beings who know to be ashamed when they do wrong. At the very least treat other people the way you want to be treated, you know: don't hate on people because of the melanin content in their skin because you wouldn't want to be treated that way, don't open up satanic "churches" just to hate on religious people or prove a point because you would feel completley outraged and hurt if someone did that to you, don't lock up kids in cages sleeping on concrete without basic hygeine because you wouldn't want someone to treat your children that way because of your crimes! Even if you think your views are right, doing right and being decent is not optional if you want your rights and the society you live in to remain intact. Polarization is a result of population wide flaws in the people's character as a whole (and do not for one second think this is american problem or americans special this way). I for example need to be more accepting of neonazis,xenophobes, anti-religious people's basic human rights. I am pointing finger at myself as well. Everyone needs to reevaluate their views to confirm with principles of basic decency without which any democracy will fail.


I find such studies rather shallow, just explaining away a phenomenon without looking deeper for causes. I dont think the level of political animosity that the USA seems to have now has been seen before, maybe ever. In no other country have people massively defied death in the way americans do today. When people stop valuing their lives , it seems rather like a change in psychology. Maybe it's not even a political phenomenon, but an extreme expression of underlying psychological issues in individuals that express themselves macroscopically in an irrational way.


" I dont think the level of political animosity that the USA seems to have now has been seen before, maybe ever."

Wait til you find out about what happened from 1775–1783 or 1861-1865. It's gonna blow your mind dude!




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