Although "partisan polarization" has been a major topic within political science for a decade, analysts have been very slow to recognize that polarization largely results from a dramatic and persistent shift of the GOP to the right. The reluctance to accept that polarization is "asymmetric" has stemmed in part from the very substantial problems this development poses for dominant interpretations of American politics. Indeed, understanding recent trends in partisan politics requires that we see the two major parties as quite distinctive social configurations rather than simply mirror images of each other.
Paul Pierson is the John Gross Professor of Political Science at the University of California at Berkeley. A distinguished analyst of American politics and public policy, comparative political economy, and social theory, his most recent books include Off-Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy (2005) and Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (2010), both co-authored with Jacob Hacker, and the influential theoretical work, Politics in Time: History, Institutions and Social Analysis (Princeton University Press 2004). He also co-edited The Transformation of American Politics: Activist Government and the Rise of Conservatism (2007), with Theda Skocpol and is the author of the award-winning Dismantling the Welfare State? Reagan, Thatcher, and the Politics of Retrenchment (Cambridge 1994) and the multiple-award-winning article “Path Dependence, Increasing Returns and the Study of Politics” (APSR 2000).