The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The partisan divide keeps growing

A protester with a whistle attempts to interrupt President Trump while he spoke during a campaign rally at the Target Center on Thursday in Minneapolis. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
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There are no more slow news days. The sad effect of this is that even relatively important and somber news can get overlooked in the daily flood.

News such as: The partisan divide is getting wider, and partisan views of the opposing party are getting less generous.

For years, Pew Research Center has been measuring the gulf between the parties. There has always been one, of course; the entire point of having political parties is that there are shared differences between groups of voters. But in recent years, powered by [insert your preferred boogeyman here], that divide has seemingly widened, and tensions between the parties have grown more acrimonious.

On Thursday, Pew released new data looking at the split.

“Three years ago, Pew Research Center found that the 2016 presidential campaign was ‘unfolding against a backdrop of intense partisan division and animosity,’ ” its report begins. “Today, the level of division and animosity — including negative sentiments among partisans toward the members of the opposing party — has only deepened.”

To measure partisan views, Pew presents poll respondents with a thermometer. If you like something, you give it a warm score. If you don’t, you give it a cold one.

In its newest iteration of that question, Pew found that more than three-quarters of both Democrats and Republicans expressed at least “somewhat” cold views of the other party — and that about 6 in 10 partisans expressed “very cold” views of the opposition. For both parties, both metrics were higher than at any point in Pew’s past polling.

What’s fascinating is that people understand the partisan divide is growing and even that respondents express concern about those divisions.

For example, 6 in 10 Democrats say there’s a “great deal” of difference between the parties, a sentiment with which three-quarters of Republicans agree. More than three-quarters of each group sees the partisan divide as growing. Democrats are more likely to say they’re at least somewhat concerned about those divisions than are Republicans.

That said, a lot of people in both parties hold the sort of negative views of the opposition that contribute to the divide.

Nearly three-quarters of each group believes the two parties can’t even agree on basic facts. This is probably related to something we wrote about on Thursday: the partisan gulf in confidence in the media.

Most members of each party also say that, even beyond politics, members of the opposing party don’t share the same values and goals. Nearly half of Democrats say Republicans have no good ideas or almost no good ideas, up from 2016. More than half of Republicans say the same of Democrats.

Pew also found that Democrats and Republicans are more likely to refer to members of the other party as “closed-minded” and “immoral” than they were three years ago. (The changes in “lazy” and “unintelligent” are more modest. Silver lining!)

One question goes unanswered in Pew’s analysis: What do we do with this? What’s the strategy for reversing the situation?

That temperatures warmed slightly after the 2016 election would seem like a good sign: Electoral politics over, partisans looked at the other side slightly more warmly.

Then Trump was inaugurated.