Must-read Pew study: Political polarization in US higher than ever

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Political ideology divides more Americans than ever and partisan opposition is deeper and more widespread than at any point in two decades, say researchers at the Pew Research Center for the People and Politics.

This political polarization is manifest in numerous ways, both in politics and in daily life, according to a new survey of 10,000 U.S. adults, which also found that people who are more politically active and engaged in the process are experiencing the greatest conflict.

Those Americans who consistently express conservative or liberal opinions has doubled over the past twenty years, jumping from 10% to 21%. In addition, partisanship and ideological thinking are more closely aligned now than in the past.

The result of political polarization is the evaporation of an ideological overlap between the two parties, as centrism has become almost extinct in America, as 92% of Republicans lean to the right of the median Democrat voter, while 94% of Democrats lean to the left of the median Republican

Animosity along political ideology has also increased significantly over the same two decades.

Members of each party share a strong negative view of the opposing party, feelings that have increased twofold in the population since 1994. Most people with strong partisan beliefs believe the policies of the opposing party “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”

This “ideological silo,” as the Pew researchers call it, are common among both Republicans and Democrats; 27% of Democrats see the GOP as a “threat to the nation’s well-being,” and 36% of Republicans have the same view of Democrats. As for unfavorablility, 38% of Democrats see the other party as “very unfavorable;” 43% of Republicans view Democrats the same way. In 1994, even though a majority of Republicans had an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party, just 17% said they were “very unfavorable.” Correspondingly, most Democrats viewed the GOP unfavorably in 1994, but just 16% were “very unfavorable.”

Political polarization is strong, and engagement only amplifies the divide.

Nearly four-in-ten (38%) politically committed Democrats say they are “consistent” liberals, only 8% were in 1994. In Republicans, the extremism appears less pronounced – 33% say they hold consistently conservative views versus 23% in 1994, during the midst of the “Republican Revolution.” However, just 10 years ago, only 10% of politically interested Republicans had a broadly conservative outlook.

Nevertheless, ideological uniformity is equal in both the left and the right.

Democrats holding consistently liberal views has quadrupled in 20 years, from 5% in 1994 to 23% now. Issues like same-sex marriage and immigration, once deeply dividing among Democrats are now areas of relative agreement. Democrats are more uniformly critical of business and sympathetic to government involvement.

On the right, the Pew survey found that changing ideological consistency follows a slightly different course. Twenty years ago, during the time of the “Republican Revolution,” only 13% of Republicans self-identified as “consistent conservatives.” Ten years later, the number actually fell to 6%, during the presidency of George W. Bush’s; today, it has rebounded to 20%. This increase is in spite of evolving moderate views among Republicans on issues like immigration and same-sex marriage, as GOP attitudes on the government and the economy has swung sharply to the right.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.