When people complain about the polarization of politics, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say that American politics has always been polarized.

“Hey, remember when Vice President Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel?” they’ll say.

Well, yes, many Americans do. It was 1804 and at the time “a man’s political opinions were inseparable from one’s self,” according to the book “Gentlemen’s Blood: A History of Dueling.”

Is American politics heading back to 1804? Unclear, but there’s growing evidence that American politics is more polarized now than in recent history. Thanks to a new massive report by the Pew Research Center, there’s fresh, detailed evidence.

Not only is the divergence between Republicans and Democrats greater now than in the last 20 years, the middle is shrinking, too.

The split isn’t just a Beltway phenomenon, either.

The American public is more divided on major issues. Those who have mixed feelings, or a willingness to compromise, are less politically active and aware. That’s most Americans, according to Pew.

“Many of those in the center remain on the edges of the political playing field, relatively distant and disengaged, while the most ideologically oriented and politically rancorous Americans make their voices heard through greater participation in every stage of the political process,” the study found.

And the number of politically engaged and aware people is increasing. According to Pew’s survey of 10,013 U.S. citizens, one-fifth of Americans have consistently liberal or conservative positions. That’s double the amount from 20 years ago.

From the study: “Across the 10 ideological values questions in the scale, 39 percent of Americans currently take a roughly equal number of liberal and conservative positions. That is down from nearly half (49 percent) of the public in surveys conducted in 1994 and 2004. As noted, the proportion of Americans who are now more uniformly ideological has doubled over the last decade: About one-in-five Americans (21 percent) are now either consistently liberal (12 percent) or consistently conservative (9 percent) in their political values, up from just one-in-ten in 2004 (11 percent) and 1994 (10 percent).”

Politics is also getting more personal, according to Pew. The study found a sharp spike in antipathy for liberals’ views of conservatives and vice versa.

Again, from the study: “In 1994, when the GOP captured the House and Senate after a bitter midterm campaign, about two-thirds (68 percent) of Republicans and Republican leaners had an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party, but just 17 percent had a very unfavorable opinion. At the same time, though a majority of Democrats and Democratic leaners (57 percent) viewed the GOP unfavorably, just 16 percent had a very unfavorable view. Today, negative ratings have risen overall (about eight-in-ten of both Republicans and Democrats rate the other party unfavorably), but deeply negative views have more than doubled: 38 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of Republicans now view the opposite party in strongly negative terms.”

So why the divide? Pew provides a few clues, some of which imply that partisans continue to seek refuge in their respective echo chambers.

A final excerpt: “Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of consistent conservatives and about half (49 percent) of consistent liberals say most of their close friends share their political views. Among those with mixed ideological values, just 25 percent say the same. People on the right and left also are more likely to say it is important to them to live in a place where most people share their political views, though again, that desire is more widespread on the right (50 percent) than on the left (35 percent).”

– Steve Mistler


Tension-filled it was not.

There simply wasn’t enough time.

Gov. Paul LePage and Eliot Cutler, one of two men trying to take the governor’s job, crossed paths in Lewiston on Thursday morning.

Cutler, an independent, attended a Business-to-Business trade show at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee as part of a campaign swing through Lewiston. Le- Page attended the event, but in his capacity as governor.

They arrived at virtually the same time.

Cutler shook LePage’s hand and they exchanged hellos, but that was it. LePage went to one side of the Colisee floor and Cutler went to the other.

No debating. No shouting. No fireworks.

As the two men toured opposite sides of the trade show, both attracted attention from attendees and participants – mostly businesses in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

Now that the primary election is over, the three candidates for governor (LePage, Cutler and Democrat Mike Michaud) are likely to spend much more time on the campaign trail.

That means it probably won’t be the last time two or more of them end up at the same place.

– Eric Russell


Politicians often extol the importance of voting, calling it a civic duty that many Americans have fought and died to preserve. This civic duty is never more important than when those politicians’ own names are on the ballot.

But do politicians, especially those seeking Maine’s highest office this November, vote when they don’t personally benefit from the result?

This year, the answer is no, at least if you ask incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler.

Maine Democrats made hay on Wednesday over the fact that LePage, who was in Iceland on a trade mission during Tuesday’s primary election, didn’t vote.

“We know Paul LePage has been an absentee governor, so this should come as no surprise,” party chairman Ben Grant said in a news release. “If the records are correct, Paul LePage has skipped out on the electoral process and neglected his civic duty. The people of Maine deserve a leader that is engaged and involved and they rarely get that with Paul Le- Page.”

But Cutler didn’t vote either. Press Herald Staff Writer Eric Russell was traveling with Cutler in Lewiston on Wednesday. He reported that Cutler, who lives in Cape Elizabeth, didn’t vote because the only issue on the ballot was a school budget referendum that he “felt confident” would pass.

Asked whether he thinks it’s a big deal if candidates don’t vote, Cutler said he “wouldn’t pass judgment on anyone.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, did vote, according to Erica Ingalls, East Millinocket’s town clerk, registrar of voters and tax collector. “He votes absentee,” she said.

“Eliot’s excuse is no better,” Grant said in a news release after discovering that Cutler didn’t vote, either. “He’s been noticeably absent from Augusta during LePage’s disastrous term, and now he’s absent from Cape Elizabeth. Clearly he’s too busy trying to win his own election to be bothered with actual policies affecting his town and state right now.”

– Randy Billings

LePage stumps for PINGREE RIVAL

Isaac Misiuk, the Republican candidate in the 1st Congressional District, last week won the endorsement of Gov. Paul Le- Page, but the 1:19 YouTube clip posted to Misiuk’s campaign website came with some curious scripting.

Most of the 182 words uttered by the governor – 104 in all – were about himself. The ad was paid for by Misiuk’s campaign, but focused largely on LePage, and did not feature Misiuk or his image.

Misiuk is a second-year political science student at the University of Southern Maine and is running against incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who is seeking her fourth term.

In the ad, LePage opens with 69 words about his administration’s accomplishments before pivoting to Misiuk, a political neophyte from Gorham.

“I am proud of the work I’ve been able to accomplish for our state,” LePage said. “Here in Maine we passed the largest tax cut in Maine’s history, reduced red tape for our job creators, cracked down on welfare fraud and improved options for our students. These changes are all vital steps to move Maine forward. As Mainers we must continue to move Maine forward, but we must see change in Washington, D.C.”

LePage then transitioned to his upbringing.

LePage’s nod was the highest-profile endorsement for Misiuk, who is far behind Pingree in campaign fundraising so far this election season. With only $1,496 on hand and $13,955 raised, Misiuk’s campaign is dwarfed by Pingree’s $293,077 on hand and $131,251 spent so far in the current cycle, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Misiuk’s priorities in Congress, as described by the governor, echo themes that are sounded by many Republican candidates.

“I know Isaac will work to shrink the size of the federal government, cut irresponsible spending, reduce our national debt and encourage job creation for a more prosperous economy for our kids and grandkids,” LePage said of his 25-year-old party cohort.

“It is time,” LePage intones. “The generation of tomorrow has a voice in Washington today. I believe that Isaac Misiuk is that voice.”

– Matt Byrne

Campaign Notebook is a compilation of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram political blogs, Open Season and Capitol Ticker. Press Herald/Telegram staff writers Steve Mistler, Randy Billings, Eric Russell, Kevin Miller and Matt Byrne and Kennebec Journal reporter Michael Shepherd contribute to the blogs.