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Title: Beyond Red Versus Blue: An Analysis of State Polarization and the Culture War in America
Authors: Joseph, Jamie
Advisors: Prior, Markus
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2013
Abstract: This thesis examines two ideas about the political scene in America today: the Red State, Blue State theory and the Culture War theory. The Red State, Blue State theory suggests that the American electorate is deeply divided along state lines, with ‘red’ states holding solidly conservative ideals, and ‘blue’ states the opposite. The Culture War theory postulates that a key source of polarization in America stems from an ongoing conflict over social issues, indicative of a larger “culture war”. This thesis attempts to look at the two theories together and answer the question: Are “red states” and “blue states” deeply polarized over cultural issues? Given noisy dialogue—both in Washington and nation-wide—that occurs around polarization today, answering this question will provide insight into the effectiveness of America’s current political system and policies. In answering this question, this thesis will look at research surrounding the Culture War and the Red State, Blue State theory, as well as three other demographic factors that influence and divide public opinion on a national and state level: income, religion and gender. By and large, the literature suggests that while these demographic factors do suggest state-by-state political leanings (ex: religious states tend to be more conservative than non-religious states), the extremity and homogeneity suggested by the Red State, Blue State theory does not hold in the arena of cultural issues. This thesis subsequently provides new analysis into this area by examining data from the 2008 National Annenberg Election Telephone Survey. This analysis attempts to test the predictions from the literature using issues currently debated by the electorate— abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, and citizenship for illegal immigrants—to see if the predicted opinion patterns suggested by scholars holds consistent with public opinion data. Ultimately, this research finds that ‘red states’ and ‘blue states’ appear to share more common ground on social issues than pundits and journalists would suggest. Furthermore, within states, individuals who hold the most extreme opinions tend to be concentrated within a small demographic. Finally, differences in polarization appear more prominent in wealthy states rather than poor states. This may suggest that today’s media—which is largely concentrated in wealthy states—may experience a skewed perception of polarization that could influence their often-distorted image of the nation presented to the public. When it comes to cultural issues, red states and blue states share much more in common than today’s politics and political dialogue would suggest.
Extent: 125 pages
Access Restrictions: Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2017

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