On Thursday, Pew Research published a survey that found that there is a deeper divide between Democrats and Republicans now than at any other point in the last 20 years. According to the survey of 10,000 adults nationwide, "these divisions are greatest among those who are the most engaged and active in the political process."
"Today, 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican."
Pew found that ideological thinking is more closely aligned with partisanship than ever before, which not only explains why ideological overlap between the major parties has diminished almost completely, but also the intraparty struggle in the GOP between "establishment" politicians who have been in office for over a decade or longer and the up-and-coming politicians who rode the wave of tea party and conservative grassroots support.
Animosity between Republicans and Democrats is also at an all-time high. The antipathy is so intense that 27 percent of Democratic survey takers see the Republican Party as a threat to the nation's well-being -- 38 percent view the opposing party very unfavorably.Disdain among Republicans is even worse. Thirty-six percent of Republicans surveyed believe the Democratic Party is a threat to the nation's well being while the total percentage of respondents who said they have a very unfavorable view of the other party is at 43 percent. This number essentially doubled from 2004.
Two decades ago, “a lot of Democrats and Republicans said they didn’t really like what the other party was doing, but they didn’t downright worry about them and see them as a threat in the way that we’re seeing from a lot of people today,” Michael Dimock, Pew’s vice president for research, told Politico.
Pew also notes that while 49 percent of Americans believe in balanced compromise, the pool of voters who are moderate or hold both conservative and liberal views is shrinking, and the further a person falls to the left or the right, the less likely they are to support compromise between the parties.
The multi-part series on polarization in America takes a look at how partisan divisions not only affect political views, but also personal views outside of politics, including where a person wants to live, whom they want to associate with, and their personal views of people who do not share their political ideology. It is an interesting examination of the role partisan polarization plays in society, but does not get into why there has been an increase in polarization.
As there is much to this series that has not yet published, further comments on how Pew examines the electorate would be best saved for later when there is a clearer picture. You can view the full first report here.
When discussing this, we cannot ignore the hyper-partisan political environment that Americans are exposed to -- an environment that is maintained by a political system that disenfranchises millions of voters not affiliated with either major party and divides the public into two categories.
We cannot ignore the rising number of American voters who are choosing not to register with either major party or the even larger number of Americans who self-identify as independent. We cannot ignore these voters even if the election systems in most states do. We cannot ignore a rising age demographic in the voting population that is more independent than any generation in modern U.S. history -- I, of course, am talking about Millennials.We cannot overlook the mainstream media and how it confines the public discussion to left versus right, rather than taking a serious look at the biggest political issues facing the nation.
Cable news stations like Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN have become nothing more than partisan echo chambers where substanceless talking points are recycled and regurgitated ad nauseam, distracting the public with sensationalist rhetoric about how Republicans or Democrats are out to destroy America and all that it stands for.
All a person needs to do is watch Fox News or MSNBC for a day and they will understand why so many conservatives and so many liberals think the other side poses a threat to the nation's well-being.
These variables cannot be ignored when examining polarization within American society and the canyon-like divide that now exists between Republicans and Democrats. The discussion is too important as we look toward the future of politics in the United States.