Tuesday, June 5, 2012

NEW POLL: Partisan polarization surges

Republicans and Democrats are farther apart in the political values today than at any point in the last quarter century.  That’s the finding of the newest Pew Research Poll examining trends in American values.

The partisan gap (average percentage-point difference between Republicans and Democrats on 48 values questions) has increased from 10% in 1987 to 18% today.

Today fewer Americans identify themselves as Democrats or Republicans but those who do are more ideologically homogeneous.  In the Republican Party, self-described Conservatives outnumber moderates two-to-one.  The Democratic Party is much more diverse with just about as many liberal as moderate party members.

More Americans now call themselves Independents but many of the self-identified Independents have a definite leaning toward one party or the other and the gap between the political values of Independents who lean Democrat and Independents who lean Republican are as great as the gap between Republicans and Democrats.

The largest values gap is over the issue of the scope and role of the government in the economic realm and support for the social safety net.  Republicans are opposed to the government helping people in need and reject stricter laws and regulations to protect the environment.  Democrats largely favor the government helping the needy and regulations/laws to protect the environment.  The position of Democrats has changed little over since 1987 on social and environmental issues.  Republicans have become more hostile toward the social safety net and the environment than at any time since Pew has tracked these values.

Democrats are more secular and socially liberal.  Ninety-two percent of Republicans say the “never doubt the existence of God” compared to 77% of Democrats.  Eighty-eight percent of Republicans say they “have old-fashioned values about family and marriage” versus 60% of Democrats.  Fifty-two percent of Democrats say the country should “make every effort to improve the position of minorities, even if it means preferential treatment.”  Only 12% of Republicans agree.

Pew found that there were more self-identified Independents today than at any point in the last 75 years.  Today 38% of Americans say they are Independents.  Thirty-two percent say they are Democrats (down 4% from 20008) and 24% say they are Republicans (about the same as 2008 but down 6% from 2002). 

Today, 87% of Republicans are non-Hispanic whites (about the same as 2000) and their average age is 50.  Democrats are much more diverse demographically.  Fifty-five percent are non-Hispanic whites, most are women (59%) and they are slightly younger than Republicans (47.5 yrs vs. 49.7)

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