Americans Increasingly See Opposing Party As ‘Threat’ To Nation
By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — More than one-third of Republicans and just over a quarter of Democrats see the other party as a “threat to the nation’s well-being,” reflecting a widening partisan division in the country that has congealed into animosity and distrust.
Through two decades of political battling across the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the ideological divisions among Americans have deepened. The percentage of Americans who hold consistently liberal or conservative views has sharply increased, and the antipathy between the two groups has shot upward.
Among those with a high level of political engagement — consistently voting in elections and following government and politics carefully — nearly half say they would go so far as to describe the other side as a threat to the country.
Although a majority of Americans do not hold such consistent ideological views, those who do have a disproportionate influence on elections. They engage much more in politics, vote more consistently, especially in primaries, and give much more money to candidates.
They also increasingly live cut off from adherents of the opposite party, choosing friends and picking places to live that reinforce their political outlooks.
Those findings come from an unusually extensive survey of more than 10,000 adults conducted by the Pew Research Center.
The results show how the partisan divisions that have gridlocked Congress reflect an increasingly deep and often bitter division at the grass roots. And although Americans overall express frustration with Congress and say they want to see lawmakers compromise more, the most politically engaged on both sides define a successful compromise as a deal in which their side gets most of what it wants.
A decade ago, only about 10 percent Americans held consistent liberal or conservative views across a broad range of issues on which Pew has repeatedly polled. The issues include the role of government, attitudes toward the poor and racial and ethnic minorities, environmental policies and the use of military force overseas.
Today, that share has doubled, to 20 percent. An additional 40 percent of Americans hold mostly consistent views.
As the number of ideologically consistent people has increased, they have become more clearly sorted by party: Many more Democrats are consistently liberal and more Republicans consistently conservative.
As a result, the two parties are more ideologically separate than they have been for decades, with less and less overlap between their backers. That’s true even though Pew included people who identify as independents in its survey. The vast majority of self-described independents, this survey and others show, lean toward one party or the other, and their views are nearly indistinguishable from those who openly espouse a partisan affiliation.