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An Amazing Chart Explains Washington's Dysfunction

Reid (center) on Capitol Hill

Photograph by Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times via Redux

Reid (center) on Capitol Hill

With the government shutdown ended and Congress tentatively beginning to function again—is everybody psyched for the budget negotiations???—Washington appears slightly less hopeless than it did two or three weeks ago. But as I noted in this recent Bloomberg Businessweek essay, it’s probably a mistake to think that the shutdown and default scare marked any kind of high-water mark for political dysfunction.

There’s not going to be an ebb. We’re not heading back to the bipartisan days of yore.

That’s mainly because the strident polarization of the last few years isn’t a function of the Tea Party or that nasty Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) or even the looming specter of Obamacare. It’s the product of a century-long partisan and geographical sorting of the American electorate that has produced two parties in Washington that have almost no commonalities. Political scientists who study this stuff have produced all sort of analyses of legislative voting records and other things to document the trend. But nothing I’ve seen illustrates it better than this striking chart included in a new report (PDF) by GOP pollster Bill McInturff:

This chart shows the National Journal congressional vote rankings that measure legislators’ votes on a scale from liberal to conservative. The ranks of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats have dwindled almost to nothing—leaving behind the partisans in both wings to dominate Congress.

Green is senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaGreen.

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