The incredibly polarized American electorate

October 30, 2012

Americans aren't just evenly divided in the 2012 election; they're practically fleeing the political middle.

Towards the end of the Wisconsin recall election this year, we saw something striking happen: Not only were there very few undecided voters in the weeks before Election Day, but the vast majority of people were strongly for or strongly against Gov. Scott Walker (R), with very few people lukewarm on either side.

The same thing is happening in the presidential race.


Janet Shagam of Arlington, Va., joins a protest on Capitol Hill. Some demonstrators planned to confront their legislators, then post video of the encounter online. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

According to a new poll from National Public Radio, three-fourths of Americans feel either "strongly favorable" toward President Obama (37 percent) or "strongly unfavorable" (39 percent). And the rest of the men on the two major parties' presidential tickets aren't far behind, with 64 percent feeling strongly favorable or strongly unfavorable toward both Mitt Romney and Vice President Biden and 62 percent feeling strongly about Paul Ryan.

All four men have overall favorable ratings right around 50 percent.

But that's not the only area in which the electorate is polarized.

Of course, the head-to-head race remains very tight, with Romney at 48 percent and Obama at 47 percent.

The generic ballot ("would you vote for the Republican congressional candidate or the Democratic candidate?") is tied at 43 percent.

Obama's approval rating is 49 percent and his disapproval is 49 percent.

And neither man leads by double digits on any major issue, be it taxes, national security, the economy or health care. In fact, neither man is favored over the other by more than 52 percent of Americans on any given issue.

The picture that is forming is one of a strongly polarized electorate in which not only are there very few persuadable voters, but voters on both sides are strongly for their guy and/or strongly against the either guy.

It's a recipe for a hugely contentious and very close election, with passions on both sides sufficiently stoked. The storm on the East Coast has put that on hold for a time, but things should rev up quickly once the two sides feel comfortable returning to the campaign trail.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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Sean Sullivan | October 30, 2012