Politics are Polarized but America is Not: Pew Study Misses Bigger Point

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J.D. Tuccille has written up part of the new Pew Research study arguing that Democrats and Republicans are more polarized than they have been in at least 20 years. Tuccille notes that there's nothing wrong with wanting to live among people who share your values and ideas. Some people even find such things the basis of, what's the word?, community.

I've got a new Time column up that takes a different look at the Pew Study (which is truly fascinating). I think the researchers are right that people invested in partisan politices are more at each other's throats than they were two decades ago. But it's vital to recognize that most of us aren't such Team Red/Team Blue dead-enders. In fact, we're evacuating politics precisely because it's an ugly battle, often over stuff that should be nobody else's business.

There's no question that people are leaving the major parties in droves. Between the 2008 and 2012 elections, USA Today reports, more than 2.5 million voters left the Democrats and the Republicans. "Registered Democrats declined in 25 of the 28 states that register voters by party," according to USA Today's tally. "Republicans dipped in 21 states, while independents increased in 18 states." As politics gets more viciously partisan, more Americans are saying no thanks.

Then there are the areas in which consensus already exists or is growing rapidly. As political scientist Morris Fiorina explains in his book Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America, Americans actually generally agree on many topics that inflame political partisans. Consider abortion, gay marriage, gun control, and pot legalization. Research from Pew itself shows only "modest generational differences in views of abortion gun control." Fifty-five percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage (up from just 42 percent in 2004) and 58 percent support legalizing pot (up from 34 percent a decade ago). When it comes to Congress, few topics seem to engender more rage than immigration, but it turns out that 71 percent of voters — including 64 percent of Republicans — support comprehensive immigration reform.

When it comes to larger questions of the role of government in everyday life, for the past four years about 55 percent of Americans believe the "government is doing too much" and only 38 percent believe it should be doing more. That generally skeptical view of government is borne out in the record high level of people — a whopping 72 percent — who agree that government poses a bigger threat to our future than big business (21 percent) or big labor (5 percent).

https://reason.com/assets/mc/_external/2014_06/we-met-the-new-boss-who-was-sa.jpg

I don't know about you, but when I hear America singing, the chorus is pretty harmonious. The sour notes are coming from partisans whose days are numbered, this being "a libertarian moment" and all.

Read the whole thing.

Speaking of sour notes, here's the Ramones with their anthemic "Something to Believe In," released back in a simpler America where everyone loved each other, even Ronnie Raygun and Tipsy O'Neill:

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  1. This post is streets behind.

  2. Nick – the Eternal Ophthalmologist.

  3. A friend reminded me of one of my favorite t-shirts I had in college.

    It said: “I’m OK – You Suck”

    I loved that shirt. And that was the 80’s so….let divisions reign!

    1. Best t-shirt of the 80s was the one that Michael J. Fox’s friend wore in Teen Wolf. It said “WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT DICKNOSE”. Now that’s a shirt.

  4. In fact, we’re evacuating politics precisely because it’s an ugly battle

    You got the causation reversed.

    Most everyone left the TEAMS leaving only the most extreme partisans TEAM players in the TEAMS.

    ‘Natural selection how does it work?!?!’

    1. Um.. naturally?

      1. ‘Emergent’ Selection?

        Whatever.

        It was some sort of selective force similar in selective force mechanics to Natural selection.

        My guess would be the selective force was government failure.

        Two failed wars, failed economy, and failed healthcare reform not “ugly” partisanship.

  5. So how does Nick Gillespie explain how the Dems keep winning and how the progressive Dems don’t lose their primaries to more libertarian Dems?

    1. Disenchanted former dems in blue voting districts simply stop voting.

    2. the Dems keep winning

      But you’re wrong. The GOP dominates state government.

  6. Isn’t Nick Gillespie the one who claimed Obama’s re-election would end racial strife?

    1. I don’t think he was still sticking to this preposterous notion by the time Obama was running for RE-election, but yes, he voted for him the first time around on this basis.

      Had he bothered to do some rudimentary investigative work, such as reading Obama’s first autobiography, he never would have fallen for such tripe.

      1. Oops I meant to say Obama’s election, not his re-election. Damn it!

  7. While there might be nothing wrong with wanting to live among people who share your values and ideas, it’s probably better not to give in to that urge.

    People ought to challenge themselves to get out of their comfort zone and interact with people who are different than themselves.

    Otherwise you end up stuck in a rather insular morass.

    That even goes for many libertarians. Get out there and argue with progressives instead of hanging out on Reason all day.

    1. People ought to challenge themselves to get out of their comfort zone and interact with people who are different than themselves.

      Why? Diversity is great for some people, but it’s a festering, oozing sore for others. The busybodies of the world don’t like being confronted by people who don’t agree with their world view, and end up promoting ever-increasing statism when they have to be exposed to {insert non-right thinking demographic here}.

      What does it hurt to have a bunch of people go off, form a community (or commune, or cult), and think their non-diverse thoughts? Maybe, just maybe, they’ll feel protected in their insular society, and not try to force themselves on the rest of us.

      1. It doesn’t hurt anyone.

        I just think it’s a better way to live, to expose yourself to different kinds of people. Same as trying new things and challenging yourself.

    2. I understand what you are saying, and I mostly agree with it, but consider your typical person. They get up, do the kids thing, and go to work. They may not absolutely hate their job, but they probably don’t really love it either. They want to spend their evenings and weekends relaxing, enjoying the company of friends and family, or doing a hobby of some sort. They have enough to worry about, and they probably don’t really want to challenge the beliefs that make them comfortable and happy. They want to be around people that help them relax and have fun. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

      I guess what I am trying to say is that I don’t really judge people harshly for being insular. It is only when they use that insular experience as a basis for telling other people how to live that I get upset.

    3. Having dinner one evening with Playa, Jesse, and Sudden was bad enough. Now you want me to invite Shrike and Tony along? Fuck that.

    4. That even goes for many libertarians. Get out there and argue with progressives instead of hanging out on Reason all day.

      Been there, done that, fuck those people. I’d rather talk to people who can think and aren’t psychotic.

      1. ain’t that the truth. There is no discussing or debating anything with progtards. They are worse than religious zealots.

        At least (usually) a rank and file conservative can offer a rationale for a position; the typical prog response is rush! fox! Koch! racist!

        1. They’re not all about the Koch. Many are still into Bush.

        2. Often, the person you are trying to convince isn’t the one you are arguing with, but the lurker reading the comment thread.

          The person who comes across as more rational will be more persuasive.

  8. OT: These guys (the left) have done jumped the shark. Just a few days ago, the Tea Party was over, gone and buried. Today, they’ve won!

    The left slides into lunacy

    1. Is that this Donna Brazille?

      1. The one and only.

    2. Cole Leystra of Progressives United must be ecstatic!

      His income seems to be donations extracted from gullible proggies whom he stokes into a frenzy of fear over some hobgoblin before offering to save them from the it if they give him $5.

      I expect he’ll get three very lucrative fundraising emails out of this episode. No dogfood for the Leystra family tonight!

  9. Um, 55% – 60% agreement on certain vaguely worded issues isn’t exactly harmony. Even taking those numbers at face value, it means the country is pretty evenly split.

    A much better, though more difficult to measure, metric would be just how much time, effort, and emotional energy people actually devote to political issues.

    1. I think the point is that while a lot disagree with each other, people are becoming more and more in unison with their ideals. This is shown with those figures rising year after year. Even though politicians are becoming more polarized, the opposite is happening with the general population.

  10. Most people don’t give a shit about politics. Politics is mostly for dorks and losers in this country. That is both a curse and a blessing. It is a blessing because it is what makes this country still free. The one thing that all totalitarian societies have in common is the politicization of every aspect of life. Progs have been diligently trying to achieve this for about a century now but this poll shows they haven’t succeeded. It is a curse because since most people don’t pay attention, the various dorks and losers who are interested in politics are able to do a lot of harm without most people noticing.

    At some point, perhaps sooner rather than later, things will get so bad the majority of Americans will start to take an interest in politics. Hopefully that will produce a great cleansing of the political system that will allow people to go back to not caring about politics again. Sadly it is just as likely to produce some populist demagogue who is even worse than what we have now. No matter what happens, it won’t turn out well for the various crap weasels who inhabit our political class now.

    It is always funny to hear some media asshole bemoan America’s lack of interest in politics. All I can think when I hear that is, be careful what you wish for asshole.

    1. This is also why political “mandates” are the dumbest thing ever. You can’t get a mandate from 50.1% of 60% of people who vote for you, even that is just a stupid plurality. That also assumes that every single person who voted for you is in lockstep agreement with every single policy of yours.

      1. clarification 50.1% vote for you, 60% vote in total.

      2. And a “mandate” implies that winning an election somehow isn’t good enough or some elections are not the same as others. Bullshit, you win, you get the powers and responsibilities of the office regardless of how many votes you got.

  11. I don’t know about you, but when I hear America singing, the chorus is pretty harmonious. The sour notes are coming from partisans whose days are numbered, this being “a libertarian moment” and all.

    *Nick sticks knife in Winston’s ribs…twists*

    1. I suppose Obamacare, Social Security, Medicare and the minimum wage will abolished anytime, amirite?

  12. (Big L) Libertarians might be independent of either Republicans or Democrats but are they not just as partisan?

    Is partisanship itself a bad thing?

    Would people prefer that politics were constrained by the Post-War Consensus?

  13. it turns out that 71 percent of voters ? including 64 percent of Republicans ? support comprehensive immigration reform

    “comprehensive immigration reform” is pretty vague. What does that mean exactly? Through out the Hispanics, open borders?

    1. It’s an Orwellian term and anyone using it is a fascist. Call it amnesty, O’Brien.

    2. I recently was polled by Rasmussen, and they ask which is the most important issue to you, and the choices were

      national security/defense
      healthcare
      economic issues (which really meant passing jobs programs)
      tax/fiscal issues (see, I’d say that is an economic issue.
      Cultural issues like SSM.

      They don’t even parse your opinion. I could be for complete nationalization or privatization of healthcare!

      In the end, I chose tax/fiscal issues.

      Later on you could rank each of these from 1-5, most important, somewhat important, etc.

      Even that is really hard.

      I also had to choose between liberal, moderate, or conservative. I chose moderate.

  14. “When it comes to Congress, few topics seem to engender more rage than immigration, but it turns out that 71 percent of voters ? including 64 percent of Republicans ? support comprehensive immigration reform.”

    How many of those agree on what that phrase should mean? The devil is always in the details.

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