The debates during Obama’s presidency over health care, economic stimulus and financial regulatory reform underscore how far apart the parties stand on economic issues and on attitudes about government’s role. For example, more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans say regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest. Most Republicans say regulation does more harm than good.
The two parties are miles apart on whether it is better to have smaller government with fewer services or bigger government with more services. Republicans overwhelmingly say people should take care of themselves; Democrats overwhelmingly say government should do everything possible to improve living standards.
Breaking down the stereo-typical red and blue shows sometimes deep divisions among those who describe themselves as Democrats and among those who identify as Republicans. Although most fall in line when it comes to choosing a president, the differences in political views are revealing.
Republicans and Democrats? Not that simple. There are many shades of each. See how the parties tend to break down into several subgroups.
Republicans see deficit reduction as more important than spending money in an effort to create jobs. Democrats believe the opposite.
Divisions over religious and social issues are equally stark. As a whole, the two parties are mirror images of each other on whether organized religious groups should stay out of politics or stand up for their beliefs in the political arena. They are similarly at odds over whether there should be a high wall of separation between church and state and whether government should more actively protect religious heritage.
Both parties contain deeply observant people as well as many who seldom go to church or synagogue or mosque. But in general, a higher percentage of Republicans, by far, are frequent churchgoers. One of the fastest-growing segments of the Democratic Party in recent years has been nonbelievers or infrequent churchgoers.
Big majorities in both parties see tolerance of other’s lifestyles as important, but Republicans and Democrats take opposite positions on whether changing mores should affect personal convictions. A majority of Democrats agree with the proposition that as the world changes, people should adjust their morals and values. An even bigger majority of Republicans disagree with that statement, with most saying so strongly. Far more Republicans than Democrats say Americans in general are too tolerant of behavior that once was considered wrong or immoral.
On abortion and gay marriage, the divide between the parties is wide. Twice as many Democrats as Republicans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. The margin between the parties is similarly gaping when it comes to same-sex marriage.
Recent shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin have sparked renewed discussion about gun laws. Over the past two decades, overall support for new restrictions has declined, to the point that today barely more than half of those surveyed favored stricter laws. Republicans overwhelmingly oppose tougher restrictions. Democrats overwhelmingly favor tougher laws, but the president and other party leaders are reluctant to propose them.
On some issues, partisan divisions have blocked action in Congress, but the Post-Kaiser study shows that rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats are less divided.
Take immigration, for example. Almost half of Republicans and three-quarters of Democrats say they favor a policy that would allow illegal immigrants to apply for legal status. And six in 10 Republicans, along with almost nine in 10 Democrats, say the government should regulate the release of greenhouse gases from power plants, cars and factories to reduce global warming.