Polarization Showing No Signs of Narrowing

The below chart from the firm of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti has been featured on this blog numerous times over the past several years. The latest version shows the polarization that exists in the U.S. Congress has continued to grow.

chart 1

A recent Pew study, based on interviews with over 10,000 adults nationwide, (http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/political-polarization-in-the-american-public/) shows this growth of polarization is being seen among the general public as well:

chart 2

The widening gap among self-identified Republicans and Democrats is best summed up in the data that, based on a series of ten questions on political values, shows 92{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Republicans are to the ideological right of the median Democrat, while 94{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Democrats are to the ideological left of the median Republican. This is a dramatic change over past years:

chart 3

Mirroring what we’ve seen in Congress, the center has shrunk among the American public: in 2004, 49{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans took a mixed number of conservative and liberal value positions, but in 2014, the number of Americans in the political middle has shrunk by ten points to 39{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}.

And, when looking at the Americans who are the most politically engaged (those who are registered to vote, follow government and public affairs most of the time, and say they vote always or nearly always), this split widens even further: 99{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Republicans are more conservative than the median Democrat, while 98{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Democrats are more liberal than the median Republican. This is an eleven point increase among Republicans and a fourteen point increase among Democrats compared to ten years ago.

Considering all of this data, it should not be surprising that partisans are also getting more and more negative towards the opposing party. Forty-three percent (43{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of Republicans are very unfavorable towards the Democratic Party, up from 17{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} in 1994, while 38{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Democrats are very unfavorable towards the Republican Party, up from 16{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} twenty years ago.

Some of the other interesting key findings from the study include:

  • Partisan leaners are not that different ideologically than partisans – especially among Democrats. Among Republicans, 57{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} are conservatives, while 47{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Republican leaners are conservative. The gap is even narrower among Democratic leaners – 57{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Democrats are liberal, while 54{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Democratic leaners are liberal.
  • Negative attitudes matter most in campaign donations. Republicans with a very unfavorable view of the Democratic Party are nearly twice as likely to donate to a political candidate or group (23{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) than those with a mostly unfavorable opinion (12{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}). On the other hand, Republicans who are very favorable to the Republican Party are just six points more likely to donate than those who are mostly favorable.
  • Nearly one-third (30{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of consistent conservatives (those who are conservative on all ten measures Pew tested) would be unhappy if a family member married a Democrat, while 23{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of consistent liberals would be unhappy if their family member married a Republican.
  • Consistent conservatives are more likely to discuss politics at least weekly (69{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) than consistent liberals (59{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}). Only 32{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of ideologically moderate Americans talk politics on a weekly basis.
  • Nearly two-thirds (63{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of consistent conservatives say most of their close friends share their political views, while just 49{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of consistent liberals say the same.

All of this data points to one thing – there are no signs the current polarization in American politics is narrowing. With less and less mixing of political beliefs among family and even friends, the political middle is not likely to be a dominant force in the coming years.

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