A New Way to Measure Washington's Dysfunction

No, you’re not imagining it: The U.S really has become more partisan. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has devised a new way to measure political fighting on a monthly basis and has found a decades-long climb in discord. Since the start of 2010, not once has the new Partisan Conflict Index fallen below the historic average.

The index, created by former Fed economist Marina Azzimonti, searches nine major U.S. newspapers for such key words as “filibuster,” “repeal,” “veto,” and “gridlock” to identify policy conflict. Why would the Fed care about this all? As Azzimonti wrote, “partisan conflict increases the volatility of fiscal policy, raising the degree of uncertainty faced by businesses and firms, which has been shown to negatively affect the economy.” While the index doesn’t typically spike during recessions, Azzimonti found that “political disagreement exacerbated the detrimental effects of the last recession in the U.S.”

Peak partisanship came a year ago, during the government shutdown that perhaps no one but Democratic pollsters seemed to like. If the shutdown was the apex of anger, peak political peace was noted in September 2001 (after the terrorist attacks) and in December 2006 (a brief lull after midterm elections).

Not surprisingly, Azzimonti found that periods near elections, especially midterms, are characterized by higher conflict. So it might be surprising that partisanship hit an almost four-year low this September. If the the traditional spike in partisanship returns in time for the upcoming November election, this month should be a doozy.

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