Political Polarization on The Rise
If recent events have been any indication, the United States is becoming ideologically divided on an alarming scale. Some historical analysts even claim political polarization has reached proportions comparative to the antebellum period that led to the American Civil War, and others warn of coming violence and instability. While the future is probably not as apocalyptic as the worst predictions are, the notable public opinion institution “Pew Research Center” has marked very consistent, observable trends with both parties moving away from each other. This fundamental divide in American beliefs has serious ramifications that could harm social cohesion and cooperation, making the country less productive, less happy and less able to respond to new issues.
Latest data from Pew Research was published on October 15th, titled “Little Partisan Agreement on the Pressing Problems facing the US,” highlighted how the difference both in issue stances and perceived importance of various issues is massively different between Democrats and Republicans. Most interestingly, the left and right cannot even agree on whether or not an issue even matters in the first place. In some cases, the difference in the percentage of people who consider an issue a “very big problem” is over 60 percent.
As expected, Republicans on average, are far less likely to consider a problem “significant” within the context of politics, and had lower percentages on virtually every issue, except a few where the difference was modest, stemming from the Republican belief in small government and reliance on individual, private action to solve problems as opposed to the state. Democrats generally view the state as a mechanism to fight oppression and see each issue as an important one for the government to fix. For example, 71 percent of Democrats believe the treatment of ethnic minorities in the justice system is a very big problem, as opposed to 10 percent of Republicans. The only places where Republicans cared more were the budget, terrorism and illegal immigration.
Furthermore, the labels each party apply to themselves is drastically different. 79 percent of Republican consider themselves a “supporter of the National Rifle Association” compared to 12 percent of Democrats. 94 percent of Republicans think they have “traditional values” compared to 59 percent of Democrats. On the flipside, only 44 percent of Republicans consider themselves “environmentalists” to the Democrats’ 76 percent, and while 60 percent of Democrats consider themselves “feminists,” only 14 percent of Republicans do. Interestingly, huge portions of both Democrats and Republicans consider themselves “open-minded,” with 96 and 90, respectively, despite the observed polarization.
These latest findings build upon the 2017 report on political polarization by Pew, which showed a drastic shift in political positions with Democrats since the 90’s becoming much more liberal, and Republicans becoming more conservative.
The trend is greatly exaggerated when only counting “politically active” people. The shift to the far left is extremely pronounced among politically active Democrats, while politically active Republicans saw a spike further to the right as well, but the increase was not quite as far to the right as the Democrats’ to the left.
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