A new Pew survey of Americans shows the current partisan divide dwarfs divisions based on other characteristics, such as religion, race or gender. Now more than ever, we need to figure out how to compromise.
A new survey finds that American political values keep moving further apart. We’ve been scooting toward opposite ends of the couch for years, and now we’re damn near falling off the edges.
Political arguments exist in every country, but this is a country held together by values and ideals we all supposedly subscribe to. The problem is that we interpret those values very differently, and those differences have practical consequences.
The federal government is working on the next budget and at the same time crafting big changes in tax laws. Everything in the tax code and the budget is a reflection of political values. How much do we spend on preserving the environment or on acquiring weapons? What is increased and what is cut? Extreme partisanship limits the vision of the politicians making those decisions.
The survey, by Pew Research Center, found little common ground between Republicans and Democrats. In releasing the data last week, Pew said the partisan divide that has been growing over the past two decades now dwarfs divisions based on other characteristics, such as religion, race, gender or education.
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Pew tracked 10 political values. “There is now an average 36-percentage-point gap between Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and Democrats and Democratic leaners.” When Pew started tracking the 10 values in 1994, the gap was 15 points.
The two groups differ on how much the government should help needy Americans. Among Democrats, 71 percent say the government should do more for needy people, even if helping them would increase the national debt. About a quarter of Republicans agree.
Partisans differed in their attitudes on foreign affairs, immigration, environmentalism, gender and about whether the country is successful because of its ability to change (68 percent of Democrats) or its reliance on long-standing principles (61 percent of Republicans).
And the partisan gap in rating Donald Trump’s first year in office (through June) is the widest for any president in six decades. On the Republican side, 88 percent approve of the job he’s doing, but only 8 percent on the Democratic side.
Majorities in both parties approved of the job several presidents did during their first year — Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and George H.W. Bush.
Pew looked at previous surveys and found that Democrats and Republicans used to have more shared positions, and that individuals were more likely to take conservative positions on some things and liberal positions on others. The past few years haven’t left much room for compromise.
It might surprise some folks in Seattle to know that the country as a whole has moved to the left on some issues. Yet almost all of that movement has been on the part of people who are Democrats or lean that direction.
A majority of Democrats agree that racial discrimination is the main reason black people can’t get ahead, while only 14 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners agree.
The fight over health care has been driven by ideology rather than practicality. Americans desperately need better access to good, affordable health care, but we can’t get there by arguing for absolutes and ignoring real-world impacts of policies.
But the partisanship just keeps deepening. Friday, the Trump administration issued two directives: one that will allow more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control in their health plans, and another that rolls back anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
This country has had deep divisions since before there were pollsters around to measure them. The founders argued heatedly every aspect of the government they were creating — some favored a strong central government; others wanted states to have more power.
The infighting ebbs and flows across our history, but it never ends. We’ve been fortunate not to have destroyed ourselves, and there’s a good chance we’ll have sense enough not to fall off the couch this time.
But we have a lot to overcome, including physical and mental isolation that makes seeing other points of view difficult.
We’ll have to fight our way through that and relearn that sometimes compromise is more important than winning.