Partisanship doesn’t seem worse. It is worse.
Partisanship in America is at a 25-year high, according to a new Pew Research Center survey, with the majority of that movement to the two ideological extremes coming in just the last decade.
In 1999, the average percentage point difference between Republicans and Democrats on 48 values question in Pew polling was 11 percent. (In 1997, it was just a nine-percent difference.) By 2012, that difference had soared to 18 points.
Here’s that data in chart form (and HUGE thanks to the Pew people for making these great charts embeddable!):
What’s even more remarkable than that rapid growth in partisanship is the fact that there has been almost no noticeable change in other major demographic categories on Pew’s values question. White/black, men/women, religious/not religious — no matter where you fall in these demographic categories the difference between how you and your opposite broadly conceptualize values has not changed markedly since Pew started polling on this in 1987.
Here’s all that data in a chart:
Put simply: The country is growing rapidly more partisan even as our other traditional fault lines — race, gender, education — remain roughly the same size they have always been.
And while it’s become old hat to attribute this growing partisan divide to the bases of both parties solidifying and forcing those who don’t see things through their ideological lens out, the Pew poll finds that the rise of partisanship extends to independents as well.
“Even when the definition of the party bases is extended to include these leaning independents, the values gap has doubled between 1987 and 2012,”according to a memo released by Pew describing the findings.
While people who identify with the two parties disagree on virtually everything, it’s on the so-called “social safety net” where they are at their furthest apart.
Just 40 percent of self-identified Republicans agree with the idea that the government should “take care of people who can’t take care of themselves” — a marked decline from the 62 percent of GOPers who said the same in 1987.
This stat will provide fuel to the fire for those who ascribe to the idea that Republicans have moved further to the right than Democrats have moved to the left and, therefore, are more responsible for heightened partisanship.
But, Pew concludes that simply laying the blame at the feet of Republicans isn’t right either, noting, in particular, a rising secularism among self-identified Democrats.
In the past decade the number of Democrats who say they have never doubted the existence of God has dropped 11 points and it’s an even more precipitous dropoff (17 points) among white Democrats.
What does all of this partisanship forebode for the next five months of the 2012 campaign? Nothing good — unless you like nasty and vitriolic campaigns.
One final chart from Pew shows just how apart those supporting President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney really are. Check this out:
So, essentially, the two parties agree on almost nothing — suggesting that no matter how the 2012 election comes out, the idea that the country will have decided on a new direction that most (if certainly not all) people can rally behind is a falsehood.
Politicians in both parties are waiting for voters to tell them what they want on Nov. 6. But these numbers from Pew suggest the very real possibility that voters — depending on their party affiliation — want such opposite things for their government that the two sides may simply not be able to reconcile around any sort of broad solution.
And that is a very scary prospect indeed.