In 1780, John Adams, the second president of the United States, warned that the ideological division of this country into political parties would be “the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” Adams would really hate to see Twitter today.
With less than a week to go until the election, the country seems to have descended into full partisan battle mode. It’s not just your imagination. The United States is more divided politically than it has been in years, and the gulf between the parties has surged since 2004, as seen in fascinating graphics created by Robert Rouse, an analytics consultant at data consulting company InterWorks.
Rouse has become increasingly turned off by the intense partisan divisions of the presidential campaign this year, and wondered how it compared to the past. So he used more than two decades' worth of data on political polarization by the Pew Research Center to create graphics that were recently nominated for Kantar's Information is Beautiful awards.
The chart below shows how beliefs have changed for the general population, as measured by Pew’s ideological scale.
The squares at the extreme left and the extreme right get fatter as you move down the timeline, showing Democrats have become far more consistently liberal and Republicans have become far more consistently conservative over time. In 1994, for example, only 0.6 percent of all Democrats were 10 points left of center on Pew’s ideological scale, while 1.3 percent of Republicans were 10 points right of center. By 2015, those proportions rose to 6.2 percent of Democrats and 3.5 percent of Republicans.
The lines that travel down the middle show the ideological position of the median Democrat (in blue) and the median Republican (in red). The graphic shows that Democrats swung to the left ideologically in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton, then once again shifted left in recent years under President Obama. The Republican Party steadily shifted to the right in the late 2000s and early 2010s under Obama.
Overall, however, the chart shows that the divide between Republicans and Democrats has more than doubled since 2004.
Rouse charts the same figures for Americans who are politically engaged, which Pew defines as those who are registered to vote, and follow politics and vote most of the time. Here, the swings and the divides are even wider, with the ideological gap between Republicans and Democrats once again roughly doubling since 2004.
Rouse also created a graphic to visualize the ideological difference on several major political issues. As the chart below shows, gun ownership, health care and abortion remain among the most politically divisive issues in the United States. Perhaps surprisingly, immigration appears to be a much less polarizing issue, at least in 2014, when the survey was taken. And the graphic shows that there are still a few issues on which opinions aren’t so divided by party – for example, Social Security benefits and National Security Administration surveillance.
You can see Rouse's original visualization, which allows you to test your own political alignment, here.
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