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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Polarizing study finds little common ground

Telegraph Editorial

It’s one thing to say the nation is more politically polarized than it was 20 years ago, but it’s another thing to prove it.

The Pew Research Center has done just that with a sobering study released this month. ...

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It’s one thing to say the nation is more politically polarized than it was 20 years ago, but it’s another thing to prove it.

The Pew Research Center has done just that with a sobering study released this month.

What Pew researchers documented is more than a little discouraging. Not only are Americans moving away from political center to the ideological polar caps, but our attitudes toward people with whom we disagree are more angry and personal.

The findings also suggest the confrontational culture of today’s politics is pushing moderate people to drop out of the discussion, thus rendering political debate even more caustic and intransigent.

The study carries special weight because of its comprehensive scope. More than 10,013 adults were interviewed nationwide between January to March of this year using landlines and cellphones. Pew also set up “The American Trends Panel” composed of 2,901 Web and 407 phone respondents.

Among the many trends Pew discovered is that “the overall share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades from 10 percent to 21 percent.

As a consequence, the middle ground of the political spectrum is more sparsely populated with 92 percent of Republicans to the right of the median Democrat and 94 percent of Democrats to the left of the median Republican.

Twenty years ago, 49 percent of Americans fell in the political middle with 3 percent consistently liberal and 7 percent consistently conservative. Today, the middle has shrunk to 39 percent and consistent liberals are up to 12 percent and consistent conservatives 9 percent.

Logic suggests that as Americans drift further apart politically, their perception of the opposition would grow more strident. And that’s what the Pew study found.

The number of people in each party with highly negative views of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994 with many respondents of the opinion that opposing party’s policies “threaten the nation’s well-being.”

In 1994, 16 percent of Democrats viewed Republicans “very unfavorably” with 17 percent of Republicans returning the favor. Today, the numbers are 38 and 43 percent respectively. Among those groups, 27 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Republicans believe the opposing endangers the nation’s well-being.

If that weren’t bad enough, the study also found “liberals and conservatives disagree over where they want to live, the kind of people they want to live around and even whom they would welcome into their families.”

In hard numbers, 30 percent of consistent conservatives said they would be unhappy if an immediate family member married a Democrat and 23 percent of consistent liberals felt the say way about Republicans.

Researchers found that in general, conservatives want to live around other conservatives and liberals want to live near other liberals. The practical consequence of which can be observed in political shifts in the House of Representatives.

The New England delegation was composed of 15 Democrats and 10 Republicans in 1974. Today, it’s 20 Democrats and two Republicans. The trend is the opposite in southern states where a 91-42 split in favor of Democrats is now a 107-47 advantage for Republicans.

So here’s the big question: Now that we know where we are, how do we get back to a political system driven by a pursuit of shared values and objectives instead an emphasis on divisiveness and vilification?