Monday, October 7, 2013

Political Polarization in America - United We Stand, Divided We Fail

As we enter the second week of the shutdown, it is obvious that there is anger among Americans of both political leanings.  A recent survey taken by the Pew Research Center shows just how widespread that anger is and how it relates to the increasing political division in America.

Here is a graphic showing how dissatisfaction with Washington, measured as either anger or frustration, crosses the political divide:

Overall, of those adults surveyed, 26 percent were angry and 51 percent were frustrated with the federal government for a total of 77 percent.  Only 17 percent were basically happy with the remainder responding "don't know".  Not surprisingly, 41 percent of Conservative Republicans were angry, the highest of any partisan group and only 18 percent of Liberal Democrats were angry, the lowest of any partisan group.  Interestingly, among Liberal Democrats, only 25 percent described themselves as basically content with a total of 68 percent describing themselves as either angry or frustrated.  That can hardly be termed a ringing endorsement for the Obama Administration, Congress or the Senate.

If we look back to October 1997, here's how public sentiment about the federal government changed over the 16 year period:

The poll taken in September 2013 showed the highest level of anger since the debt ceiling debacle of August 2011 and the second lowest level of contentment, again, coming in just below the levels seen during the August 2011 debt ceiling debacle.

What does the American public feel is the root cause of Congressional dysfunction?  Here are the reasons and the percentage of respondents who identify with that reasoning:

1.) A few members who refuse to compromise keep things from getting done - 36 percent.  Just over 50 percent of those who identify themselves as Democrats blame Congressional deadlock on a few members compared to only 25 percent of Republicans. 

2.) The parties have grown so far apart that they can't agree on solutions - 48 percent.  Just over 60 percent of those who identify themselves as Republicans blame Congressional deadlock on growing political polarization compared to only 34 percent of Democrats.

Interestingly, 44 percent of respondents feel that growing political polarization is mostly found among elected officials and is not reflective of American society as a whole.  In contrast, 41 percent of respondents state that they believe that these divisions among politicians reflect a more divided American society.  Democrats (47 percent) are more likely to believe that a more divided society is to blame whereas Republicans (also 47 percent) are more likely to believe that divisions among politicians in Washington are more to blame.

A recent poll by Rasmussen Reports shows that only 34 percent of American adults believe that the Founding Fathers would consider today's United States a success with 49 percent believing that the founders would view the nation as a failure.  Among Democrats, 49 percent think that the Founding Fathers would view America as a failure compared to 55 percent of independents and 62 percent of Republicans.  That's hardly a ringing endorsement for the current state of the Union, is it?

The gap in political values on key issues between Republicans and Democrats has never been wider in the past 25 years.  Pew has found that, over the past decade alone, there are fewer Americans that would identify themselves as "moderate Republicans" (68 percent in 2012 compared to 59 percent in 2000) and more Democrats who identify themselves as "liberal" (39 percent in 2012 compared to 28 percent in 2000).  That explains a great deal of the polarization, however, it doesn't particularly explain why both sides are increasingly becoming entrenched in their chosen political persuasion.

American divisiveness is reflected in deepening divisions on many key issues including social entitlements, abortion, gay marriage, food stamps, the environment, national defense, the size and involvement of government and a host of other issues.  Unfortunately, it's a bit difficult to tell which came first; have politicians used these divisions to exploit voters and gain votes or are they simply reflecting the will of the constituency that they "represent"?  It's a chicken and egg thing.  Unfortunately, in any case, it is dividing America.

No comments:

Post a Comment