By Molly Ball
A fascinating new Pew report charting America’s increasing partisan polarization came out Thursday, and it has inspired all the usual handwringing. We’re more divided along political lines than ever, and here are the data to prove it.
The Pew report convincingly documents what most people already believe or suspect: Republicans and Democrats increasingly hold opposing views on just about every issue. They also can’t stand each other: 43 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of Democrats have a “very unfavorable” view of the other party; both figures have more than doubled since 1994. This set of charts tells the story of the parties’ increasingly stark separation:
It’s easy to lament the division and strife that mark our politics. But what stand out to me are the exceptions—the issues where Republicans and Democrats are both largely on the same side: immigration, national security, and gay rights.
Republicans and Democrats are farther apart on these issues than they were 20 years ago, but majorities of them still fall on the same side. Nearly three-quarters of Democrats and 54 percent of Republicans do not believe immigrants are burdening the country by taking jobs, housing, and health care from Americans. (Strikingly, while both parties are pro-immigration today, both were overwhelmingly anti-immigration 20 years ago.) More than 80 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans do not believe military strength is the best way to ensure peace. And only 43 percent of Republicans still agree with 22 percent of Democrats that “homosexuality should be discouraged by society.”
These findings are consistent with another recent large-scale examination of American voter attitudes. In a poll conducted by the center-left think tank Third Way last month, self-described moderates usually saw merit in both liberal and conservative arguments on issues such as the role of government int the economy, gun rights, and the national debt. But that wasn’t true of immigration and national security. Majorities of moderates both sympathized with immigrants and didn’t buy the idea that giving them citizenship would reward bad behavior. Most moderates also worried about government surveillance going too far while rejecting the idea that we’re not doing enough to prevent the next terror attack.
The Third Way poll didn’t ask about gay rights. But plenty of polls show that even Republicans are consistently moving toward acceptance of gay people and gay marriage. The trend line on that issue—a steady slope in the direction of acceptance by both parties—is unique the results in the Pew poll, and it would seem remarkable if it weren’t totally familiar by now.
On most issues, the parties have legitimate differences of opinion that reflect the different opinions held by their partisans. But on immigration, national security, and gay rights, most voters in both parties are on one side.