WASHINGTON - Partisan and ideological polarization has grown dramatically in the last two decades, according to a survey of more than 10,000 Americans conducted by the Pew Research Center. A look at five findings that help explain the nation's political fissures:
PARTY UNITY INCREASINGLY IDEOLOGICAL
Over the past 20 years, the share of Americans holding ideologically pure views has doubled, from 10 per cent in 1994 to 21 per cent now, according to the survey. And ideology is now more closely aligned with partisanship. Those holding strictly liberal or strictly conservative views across a battery of 10 issue questions now make up around 20 per cent of each major party, and majorities in each now express views that are mostly one way.
The numbers of ideological purists are larger among the politically engaged than the general public, suggesting the ideological stalemates that have become more common in Washington and statehouses around the country are likely to continue. A third of those who say they regularly vote in primaries have all-or-nothing ideological views, as do 41 per cent who say they have donated money to a campaign. Likewise, among partisans, the most politically engaged are also most likely to take an acrimonious view of the opposing party and denounce compromise, heightening pressure on elected officials to avoid co-operation across the aisle.
THE SHRINKING MIDDLE
About 4 in 10 of those surveyed held a nearly even mix of liberal and conservative views, down from about half in 1994. But lack of consistency doesn't necessarily translate to lack of conviction. Sizable minorities within this group hold what could be considered ideologically extreme views. For example, 3 in 10 who hold a mix of liberal and conservative views generally take a hard line on abortion: 16 per cent say it should be legal in every circumstance, 14 per cent that it should always be illegal.
ISSUES AND IDEOLOGUES
Even among those on the ends of the ideological scale, who hold either consistently liberal or conservative positions generally, there is some nuance to their viewpoint. Among consistent liberals, 81 per cent support limits on gun ownership, yet just 16 per cent say only law enforcement officers should have guns. Likewise, though 96 per cent of consistent conservatives prioritize protecting gun rights over restricting them, just 34 per cent said there should be no ownership restrictions at all. Immigration seems an exception on the right, with more than 8 in 10 consistent conservatives who oppose a path to citizenship saying the government should make an effort to deport immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. For consistent liberals, the only issue in the survey that comes close is health care, where 6 in 10 who see health insurance as a government responsibility say there ought to be a single-payer program.
LIFESTYLE AND CULTURE
The polarization dominating politics now extends to everyday life, with shared political views a priority for many in their social lives and neighbourhoods. Two-thirds of consistent conservatives and half of consistent liberals say most of their close friends share their political views. And one-quarter of consistent liberals say they'd be unhappy if an immediate family member married a Republican, 30 per cent of consistent conservatives say the same about a union with a Democrat. Three in 10 on each side say it's important to them to live in a place where most people share their political views. Even beyond a neighbourhood's political character, conservatives and liberals prioritize different lifestyles, with liberals more apt to favour a walkable city and conservatives favouring space and privacy.
The findings are based on a telephone survey of 10,013 randomly-selected adults nationwide, conducted between Jan. 23 and March 16, 2014. Results based on the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 1.1 percentage points.
Pew Research Center: http://www.pewresearch.org
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