If you suspect that Americans have become more politically polarized in recent years, you’re right.
A Pew Research Center survey released today shows that politics are now the primary divisive element in society, more so than race, education, income, sex and religion. Pew has studied 48 different aspects of partisanship since 1987, and in that time the gap between those on different sides of the political spectrum has jumped from 10 points to 18 points, bringing the U.S. to its highest level in 25 years. This jump primarily occurred during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and the specific issue that experienced the strongest change in polarization was that of the welfare system for the poor. From 1987 to today, the issue has grown from 23 points to 41 points.
The reason for this spike is due to changing demographics within the Republican and Democratic parties. Republicans have grown to be increasingly conservative in recent years, and that sector dominates over the moderate members of the party. Democrats, which have typically been ruled by moderate forces as well, are now seeing those ranks matched by liberals. In fact, even independents aren’t safe, as most of those who are unaffiliated still lean toward one of the major political parties.
So what gives? What happened to moderates on both sides of the aisle? Is it possible to reign in this polarization? Have you noticed the country getting to be more partisan than in years past? What harmful effects could this have down the road? How do you deal with this societal division in your daily life?
Carroll Doherty, Associate Director, Pew Research Center