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10 Reasons Why Americans Are Not as Divided as You Think

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Created: 28 February, 2024
7 min read

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

 

Party leaders, politicians, and media pundits and talking heads would have US voters believe that the American public has never been more divided. This narrative is especially prominent in presidential election years. 

The truth is that American agree on more issues than one might think, and it's really only the major parties that are more divided.

Perception influences voter behavior and the way voters see the sociopolitical landscape around them. Every issue and political matter are framed in terms of "us versus them," "Republican versus Democrat," and "conservative versus liberal."

The American electorate is constantly exposed to an exchange of toxic and hyper-polarized rhetoric between Republicans and Democrats. So, it is no surprise people buy into the myth of the hotly divided public.

Without question, the divide that separates the Republican and Democratic Parties continues to widen. But when half the voting population identifies as independent, and most voters say they are dissatisfied with the parties, a partisan divide does not equate to a public divide.

Here are 10 key indicators that Americans are not as divided as the press and the parties would have people believe -- and in fact, maintaining a perception of division and keeping people divided in elections is an intentional tactic of the two-party duopoly.

1. Republican and Democratic Majorities Agree on More Than 200 Policy Positions

The University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation (PPC) and Voice of the People have identified more than 200 policy positions on which majorities in both parties agree.

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“While some believe that polarization in Congress mirrors a divided public, it is clear there is far more common ground among the people than in Congress,” a January 2024 report quoted JP Thomas, Vice President of Voice of the People.

The report states:

"In the last year, Voice of the People has identified common ground on a range of issues including: restricting federal policymakers from buying stocks and lobbying former colleaguesfederal funding for substance use disorder treatment, imposing term limits for Congress, instituting a $12 minimum wage, and not criminalizing abortion."

CBS News published a piece in 2022 that looked at 50 things where agreement can be found among bipartisan majorities of Americans, including the seriousness of inflation, pay increases for teachers, abortion, concerns over illegal immigration, and that the Founding Fathers would be disappointed in the current state of the US.

2. Most US Adults Want Members of Congress to Work Together

In a January 2019 NPR/PBS/Marist Poll, 63% of US adults agreed with the statement, "“I like elected officials who make compromises with people they disagree with." The number increased when a similar poll was conducted in 2022. 

"[W]e also asked, should the parties be working together? And look at that; 74 percent of those we talked to said, yes, compromise is more important than standing on principle," PBS's Lisa Desjardins reports.

And yet, Americans look at Congress and see an institution that continues to fail them because Republican and Democratic members refuse to work together to find long-lasting solutions to national concerns. Lawmakers are incentivized to strictly toe the party line.

After all, how else will they be able to attack the "other side" on the same issues each election if they work together? 

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Pew Research found in September 2023 that 78% of survey takers believed too little attention was put on important issues and 57% said there was too much focus on the divisions between the Republican and Democratic Parties. 

3. Most Voters Do Not Approve of the Job Lawmakers Do

The emphasis the parties put on scoring political points on the "other side" over addressing important national issues in a constructive and meaningful way is the reason Congress has long had abysmal job approval numbers.

Gallup found in October 2023 that Congress' job approval tied a record-low 13% set in 2017. And yet, NPR/PBS/Marist found that while most Americans want members of Congress to work together, they expect gridlock and polarization to get worse.

The US political industry is the only industry where consumers (voters) can be overwhelmingly dissatisfied, and no changes are made by the key players in the industry. This is because the system was not designed to bolster voter satisfaction.

It was designed to benefit two private political corporations.

4. US Voters Have a Negative View of Party Politics

The US electoral system has been designed at every level to give the Republican and Democratic Parties the most power over electoral outcomes. This creates an incentive for politicians to put party first and prioritizes a zero-sum contest between the parties.

Most voters feel unrepresented. Most voters feel unheard. And, as Pew Research found in September 2023, most voters (65%) say they "always" or "often" feel exhausted when thinking about politics.

Further, only 4% of survey takers said the US political system is working "extremely" or "very" well. Just 16% said they trust the government at least most of the time. And, most voters (63%) are not satisfied with the candidates the national major parties give them. 

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5. There Is Broad Mistrust in the Media

Since 2017, Gallup and the Knight Foundation have tracked a decline of trust in national media outlets. In January 2023, the Knight Foundation released part 2 of a series of reports that looked at US public opinion from the previous year. 

The data collected showed that only 26% of Americans had a favorable view of the news media. The increased mistrust in the media is most notable among independent voters but is also prevalent among Republicans and Democrats. 

One of the biggest problems Americans have with today's news media is the reliability and usefulness of the information being reported. Over 70% believed national news outlets have the means to report the news accurately and fairly, but only 35% said most of these organizations can be relied on to deliver the information they need.

Americans are also much less likely to believe that national news outlets care about the best interests of their readers / viewers.

6. Most Americans Agree on Fundamental Democratic Values

Business Insider evaluated issues that can unite Americans and some issues in which Americans are truly divided. On the subject of fundamental democratic values, there is very little disagreement on principles like "open and fair elections" (89%), "a system of checks and balances" (83%), and "rights of people with unpopular views are protected" (74%),

7. A Growing Number of Voters Agree on Being Independent of Both Major Parties

Gallup's party affiliation index often gets attention from national news outlets. And while independent voter ID has remained between 40% and 50%, a story ignored by the press is that in half the states that register voters by party, registered independents outnumber members of at least one major party. And in the top states for independent voter registration, these voters outnumber both major parties. 

In some states, it is not even close. Independent voters make up 62% of the registered voting population in Massachusetts, 60% in Alaska, and nearly half in Colorado -- meaning the remaining electorate is divided between the other 50%. 

8. Most US Voters Support Systemic Nonpartisan Election Reforms

Citizen Data released the results of a survey in May 2023 that found that 61% of voters surveyed said they were at least somewhat interested in using a new voting method like ranked choice voting in crowded candidate fields, like the presidential fields from one or both parties we see each election cycle. 

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Nonpartisan election reforms like ranked choice voting and nonpartisan open primaries continue to win at the ballot box. Voters have approved Top Four and Top Five nonpartisan primary systems in Alaska and Nevada. Even in Florida, though it failed to get to the 60% vote threshold needed to pass, a Top Two nonpartisan primary garnered 57% of the vote.

9. Most Americans Agree That We Are Not That Divided

The Carr Center at the Harvard Kennedy School found that more than 70% of US adults believe they “have more in common with each other than many people think.”

“Overall, I think Americans want not to be divided as politics are forcing [the country] to be, and that’s probably the biggest message of this poll,” said John Shattuck, as quoted by Politico.

“Division is not what most Americans are seeking."

Shattuck is a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, served as the third US ambassador in the Czech Republic, and is a former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor 

10. US Adults Agree on a Fundamental Basis for Citizen and Human Rights

The same Carr Center report found that central to the perspective that Americans have more in common than they may initially realize or are led to believe is the importance of constitutional and human rights. More than 80% of respondents said “without our freedoms America is nothing”.

Overwhelming majorities agree on the importance of fundamental human rights, "such as privacy of personal data (considered important by bipartisan 93% majority), voting (93%), racial equality (92%) and affordable health care (89%)," the report states. 

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