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