Polarization, American-Style: Partisans See Opponents as Threats

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, left, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, second left, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, right, make their way to the front of the chamber ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Jan. 28, 2014.

Photograph by Larry Downing/Pool via Bloomberg

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, left, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, second left, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, right, make their way to the front of the chamber ahead of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Jan. 28, 2014.

It’s a poisonous potion:

“Increasingly Ideological Uniformity.”

“Partisan Animosity.”

Stir it up: Political Polarization.

And this toxic mix of unyielding opinions is stronger than it has been in two decades, according to the Pew Research Center, out with a phone book of a study on what’s gone awry in American politics and the public dialog (or, it appears, dueling monologues.)

“Today, more Democrats are consistently liberal and more Republicans are consistently conservative than at any point in the last 20 years,” Pew reports. “And among Republicans and Democrats who are highly engaged in politics the ideological middle ground is rapidly disappearing.Within both parties, 70 percent of the politically engaged now take positions that are mostly or consistently in line with the ideological bent of their part.”

It cuts both ways, of course.

“The share of Republicans who have very unfavorable opinions of the Democratic Party has more than doubled over the past 20 years – from 17 percent to 43 percent,” Pew reports. “Similarly, the share of Democrats with very negative opinions of the GOP also has more than doubled – from 16 percent to 38 percent.”

There are actually people who view the other political party as a “threat to the nation’s well-being,” Pew found — with 27 percent of Democrats saying this of the Republican Party, and 36 percent of Republicans saying this of the Democrats. Those numbers, too, have essentially doubled during the past two decades.

Pew calls it “a rising tide of mutual antipathy.”

If the report is thick, the survey was huge: 10,013 adults surveyed January 23-March 16 by Pew, with backing from foundations interested in understanding “the nature and scope of political polarization.”

The furthest left and furthest right voters also are more likely to vote. And, of course, Democrats are shifting further to the left, Republicans further to the right.

All this has policy implications. Liberals say they’d like “walkable communities,” Republicans “bigger houses.”

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