“Overall, there has been much more stability than change across the 48 political values measures that the Pew Research Center has tracked since 1987,” the report states. “But the average partisan gap has nearly doubled over this 25-year period — from 10 percent in 1987 to 18 percent in the new study.”
Republicans and Democrats have long seen the world through different lenses. On some issues, the gaps between them are relatively small (the importance of political engagement, for example). On others they are wider. What Pew found is that in almost every measure, those gaps have increased over the past 25 years, and in some cases now seem to represent almost unbridgeable divisions.
The Pew report found that the changes began to accelerate during George W. Bush’s presidency. Barack Obama’s presidency, the report says, has received “the most extreme partisan reaction to government in the past 25 years. Republicans are far more negative toward government than at any previous point, while Democrats feel far more positive.”
Andrew Kohut, who directed the study, said two things are notable. One is that, “by and large, values haven’t changed. The other is that political identity has eclipsed these other factors” such as race and class as the biggest sources of division. “The only thing that’s changed is the extent to which Republicans and Democrats go to opposite sides of the room on most issues.”
Some of the most significant differences — and the areas where the divisions have increased the most — were on core issues of the 2012 campaign: the role and scope of government and the social safety net.
Twenty-five years ago, the gap between Republicans and Democrats on how they assessed the scope and performance of government was six percentage points. Today it is 33 points. On support for the social safety net, what once was a 21-point gap is now 41 points. On environmental issues, the gap has ballooned from five points to 39 points.
On some of these issues, the biggest changes in attitudes have been among Republicans. Twenty-five years ago, 62 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of Democrats said the government should take care of people who can’t take care of themselves. Today, 75 percent of Democrats agree with that statement, but the percentage of Republicans who agree has plummeted to 40 percent.