The Center Cannot Hold

AP US Government and Politics

How much ideological overlap is there between U.S. House Democrats and Republicans?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What political ideology is most associated with each of the parties?

  3. What is one trend you see in the data?

  4. What are two causes of this trend?

  5. What is one consequence of this trend?

  6. Is this good news for the average American?

  7. What question do you have about this chart?

  8. In 2012 there were only 11 members of the House of Representatives who had overlapping ideology. What part of the country or type of district do you think these crossover House members are from?

  9. How does ideological overlap in the U.S. Senate compare to the overlap in the U.S. House?

  10. How does ideological overlap in the U.S. Congress compare to the overlap in the U.S. population?

  11. Explain how the trend from the chart above affects the ability of the president to govern.

  12. Imagine that the Supreme Court declares gerrymandering unconstitutional and forces state legislatures to appoint independent panels to redraw all districts without gerrymandering. Explain how the data in the chart would change in the next ungerrymandered congress?

  13. Gerrymandering was named after Elbridge Gerry. Four decades from now, when political scientists use the term Trumping what will it mean? Submit your answer in the comments section below!

  14. How will the Trump administration impact the level of polarization in the future?

  15. If you extrapolate from the data, how many crossover votes do you imagine there will be in 2020?

  16. In the comments section, explain the connection between the data and the fact that less than 10% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing:

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Visual Extension*

Learning Extension

Read this Pew Research Center report on political polarization. Or watch this BBC video about polarization.

Action Extension

Take the Pew Political Typology Quiz and then compare your results to your Congressional Representative's ideology scorecard.

Our World In Data Extension

Animals in Clothes Extension

Democratic Socialism

Do more Democrats approve of socialism or capitalism?

  1. What the What?!?! How accurate was your prediction?

  2. How surprised are you by this data?

  3. What is the big story the chart tells?

  4. Describe some of the main differences between capitalism and socialism.

  5. Why do you think more Democrats approve of socialism than capitalism?

  6. How will this impact the nomination process for the 2020 presidential election?

  7. Identify some Democratic party leaders who you associate with socialist beliefs.

  8. Identify some Republican Party leaders who you associate with capitalist beliefs.

  9. The goal of a political party is to turn it’s beliefs into policy by winning elections. In terms achieving these goals, explain whether you think that the shift of Democrats towards socialism is good news for the Democratic Party.

  10. Democrats are generally associated with a liberal political ideology. Explain whether liberalism is compatible with socialism.

  11. Republicans are generally associated with a conservative political ideology. Explain whether conservatism is compatible with capitalism?

  12. What is one trend you see in the chart?

  13. Explain whether independent voters would be more attracted to capitalism or socialism?

  14. Are capitalism and socialism mutually exclusive?

  15. What is one policy that a democratic party moving towards the left, towards more socialism, would be likely to endorse?

  16. What is one policy in American government that is a result of the influence of Capitalism?

  17. What is one policy in American government that is a result of the influence of socialism?

  18. How much do you think the echo-chamber of social media has contributed to this leftward slant of Democrats, and rightward slant of Republicans?

  19. In the past, the chart above would have had more people smack dab in the middle. What has happened to those people and how does the lack of a center impact gridlock in American politics (border walls, government shutdowns, etc.)?

  20. Imagine you are one of the 10% of Republicans who have a positive view of socialism. What do you imagine is the main reason these people are Republicans instead of Democrats?

  21. How do you think age impacts approval of socialism?*

  22. The Federalist argues that most young people who like socialism don’t really know what it is! Do you think most old people who like capitalism really know what it is?

  23. Based on your knowledge of American politics, respond to the Federalist’s claim above.

Visual Extension

Learning Extension

Read this FiveThirtyEight story about millennials and socialism.

Action Extension

Then check out some of the young folks in this year’s POLITICO50, Politico’s list of 50 ideas driving politics (and the people behind them). Share the idea or person that you find most interesting on social media or by word of mouth.

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Ideologee Whiz 2019

What is the most common political ideology of Americans today?

  1. How accurate was your ridiculous prediction?

  2. Describe one trend you see in the data.

  3. What is your best explanation for that trend?

  4. What is one consequence of this trend?

  5. Using the data from the chart and your knowledge of American government and politics, respond to the following claim: There are less moderates than there were 25 years ago. This is one of the causes of the current government shutdown.

  6. What kind of impact do you think the Trump Administration will have on political ideology in America in the next few years?

  7. How much do you think ideology is impacted by American subgroup demographics (like gender, age, income)?*

  8. What is the most liberal American subgroup?*

  9. What is the most conservative American subgroup?*

  10. Using the data from the chart and your knowledge of American government and politics, respond to the following claim: ideology=party.

  11. Based on the ideology charts below of American Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, is it fair to say that these groups are becoming more ideologically extreme?*

  12. How has the ideological makeup of the following groups changed over the past 25 years?*

  • Democrats:

  • Republicans:

  • Independents:


Visual Extension*

Learning Extension

Read this Gallup report on American political ideology.

Action Extension

Write the ideology (of the following) you most strongly identify with (liberal, conservative, moderate). List the top three reasons you follow/agree with that ideology. Share your ideology/reasons in class or online. Tally up the top ideology in your classroom and note how your classroom is similar or different from the United States.

Separated at Birth Extension

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Got a favorite separated at birth politician? Fill in the form below and let us know all about it!

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Divided We Fall

AP US Government and Politics

How close are the political values and beliefs of the median Democrat and Republican voter?

Pew Research Center

AP US Government and Politics

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What is one trend you see in the charts?

  3. What are two causes for that trend?

  4. What are two consequences of that trend?

  5. Is this good news or bad news?

  6. How did this trend affect the 2016 election?

  7. How does this trend affect the ability of the winner of the 2016 election to rule the nation?

  8. If these trends continue, what do you think this chart will look like in 20 more years?

  9. What does this tell you about the future of America?

  10. Explain what impact the media has on this division in political beliefs.

  11. How often do you think people on opposite sides of the divide speak to each other?

Learning Extension

Read the entire Pew report on the widening ideology gap.

Action Extension

Find someone with very different political views from your own and ask them to tell you a little bit about what they believe and why? Try very hard to be a good listener. If you are an extreme moderate, find someone of either extreme to talk to. Share the outcome of your discussion with your classmates.

Tectonic Political Ideology

AP US Government and Politics

In 2004, nearly half of the American public held a roughly equal mix of liberal and conservative viewpoints. Since then, Americans have become more ideologically polarized. Today, what portion of Americans have a roughly equal mix of liberal and conservative views?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What most surprised you about this data?

  3. What is the big trend you see in the data?

  4. Why do you think this is happening?

  5. What is one consequence of this change?

  6. Explain whether this is good news:

  7. How do you think the media contributes to this growing ideological polarization?

  8. What is one question you have about this data?

  9. How many people do you hang out with who have a political ideology opposite your own?

  10. Is that a good or a bad thing?

  11. How do you think politicians react and respond to this growing ideological polarization?

  12. Explain how this growing ideological polarization impacts U.S. House races differently from the race for the US president?

  13. Overall, is America becoming more liberal or conservative?

  14. What will this data look like in another 20 years?

  15. Explain which single issue is currently the most highly polarized in America?

  16. How do you think this information contributed to the rise of Trump?

Learning Extension

Check out this super-cool Pew Research interactive on ideological polarization in the U.S.

Action Extension

I have a cousin who is very liberal on gun control (he wants there to be very tough limits on guns) but is very conservative on abortion (he wants a very tough ban on abortion). He holds a mix or liberal and conservative viewpoints, and today he is a rarity. Interview your friends, family, acquaintances, even frenemies and try to find one person who holds a mix of liberal and conservative views. We'll call them a conserberal or, better yet, a libervative. Ask them to help you understand how they have avoided ideological polarization. Share your experience online or in class.

Bonus Charts*

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