Think Tennessee Lawmakers Are Becoming More Divided? You're Right, Researchers Say | Nashville Public Radio

Think Tennessee Lawmakers Are Becoming More Divided? You're Right, Researchers Say

Jul 25, 2017

New research suggests the Tennessee state legislature is now one of the most politically divided in the South.

Across the 13-state region, only Texas has a legislature that's more polarized, according to a study of all 50 statehouses. 

Researchers say the rise in partisanship appears to be tied to a change in voting patterns in rural areas.

Nolan McCarty, a political science professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and Boris Shor, an assistant professor at the University of Houston, crunched more than two decades of data that tracked the voting records of every lawmaker nationwide. 

Their data show that Tennessee's Republican legislators have been steadily right-leaning, with the 2017 session being their most conservative.

But Democrats are polarizing faster than their GOP colleagues, mainly because of a shift in which districts they represent. Fewer Democratic lawmakers come from rural areas; more are coming from Tennessee's big cities.

Those same researchers say Tennessee is far from alone. Most legislatures across the country are becoming more polarized — creating statehouses that are starting to mirror the partisanship in Congress.