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How Americans have become more polarized, in two charts

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There’s no question Congress has become more polarized. But it’s not just Washington that’s responsible for the sharpening political divide: ordinary Americans have become more polarized as well.

The Pew Research Center finds partisan differences among the public began increasing sharply in the beginning of the Bush administration and have risen ever since. The divide emerged from a set of “values questions” that Pew posed to participants, largely focused on policy questions like the social safety net and immigration. Here’s the percentage-point gap in the questionnaire over time:

SOURCE: PEW RESEARCH CENTER

What were the issues that most divided Republicans from Democrats? The social safety net, environment, and labor unions:

SOURCE: PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Pew points out that a similar partisan divide emerged among “independents,” though Pew finds that most independents actually lean toward one political party or the other.

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