A recent poll by the Wall Street Journal/NBC News confirmed what many Americans probably suspected: The US was a country rife with political, economic and cultural divisions long before President Trump rode down that escalator at Trump Tower in June 2015.
And while politics isn't the only factor driving the divide, as WSJ explains, it's probably the most obvious. People who identify with either party increasingly disagree not just on policy, but on fundamental social and economic values...
“The wide gulf is visible in an array of issues and attitudes: Democrats are twice as likely to say they never go to church as are Republicans, and they are eight times as likely to favor action on climate change. One-third of Republicans say they support the National Rifle Association, while just 4% of Democrats do. More than three-quarters of Democrats, but less than one-third of Republicans, said they felt comfortable with societal changes that have made the U.S. more diverse.”
For example, Americans' views on the economy and the country’s future are often correlated with their feelings about one man: President Donald Trump.
“Our political compass is totally dominating our economic and world views about the country,” said GOP pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Fred Yang. “Political polarization is not a new thing.
The level under Trump is the logical outcome of a generation-long trend.”
Some of the starkest attitudinal divides were between people with a four-year college degree, and those who had only a high school education.
“Rural Americans and people without a four-year college degree are notably more pessimistic about the economy and more conservative on social issues. Those groups make up an increasingly large share of the GOP.”
According to WSJ, peoples’ views about the president’s job performance are much more polarized than they were a decade ago.
“Eight months into the 1950s presidency of Republican Dwight Eisenhower, 60% of Democrats approved of the job he was doing. That level of cross-party support for a new president remained above 40% until Bill Clinton, when only 20% of Republicans approved of his performance after eight months in 1993. For Barack Obama, Republican support dropped to 16% at this point in his presidency in 2009.”
That trend has only accelerated under Trump…
“His job-approval rating among Americans overall has remained in recent months at about 40%, but just 8% of Democrats approve of the job he is doing, the survey found. By contrast, 80% of Republicans approve.”
Notably, Republicans’ outlook for the future improved remarkably after Trump triumphed over Hillary Clinton in November’s election.
“Mr. Trump’s election has brought a sharp mood swing among Republicans. In August 2014, 88% of Republicans said they weren’t confident that life for their children’s generation would be better than their own, a gloomy view of a central element of the American dream. Eight months into the Trump presidency, just 46% of Republicans say they lack confidence in their children’s future - a 42-point swing that is more dramatic than improvements in the economy would seem to justify.”
The survey showed that gun control, immigration and globalization – some of the most divisive issues facing the American public – were all key issues of Trump’s campaign.
Surprisingly, views about gun control were once less partisan. Asked if they were concerned that the government would go too far in restricting gun-ownership rights or, alternatively, that the government wouldn’t do enough,
Republicans in 1995 were about evenly split. Democrats were divided 26% to 67%. Now, 77% of Republicans say they worry the government could go too far, while 71% of Democrats worry the government won’t go far enough.
The public’s views on immigration have also become pretty lopsided:
“Views of immigration have also become more partisan. In an April 2005 poll that asked whether immigration strengthened or weakened the U.S., a plurality of 48% said it weakened the nation, with 41% saying immigration strengthened the country. Now, a substantial majority of 64% view immigration as strengthening the country, while 28% say it weakens the U.S. The change is due almost entirely to a sharp shift in Democrats’ views. In 2005, just 45% of Democrats said the country was strengthened by immigration; now the share is 81%.”
Rural Americans and those without a college degree have particularly pessimistic views on the economy.
“Some 43% of rural residents gave a high rating to their local economy’s health, compared with 57% of urban dwellers. Among people without a four-year college degree, only 47% viewed the economy in their area as good or excellent, compared with two-thirds of people with a degree.
Both groups have been moving from the Democratic Party to the GOP.”
To be sure, most Americans say they're aware of the growing polarization in the US: 80% of those surveyed saw the country as mainly or totally divided. However, in an ironic twist, they couldn’t agree on why. Democrats and independents tended to see the division as rooted in economics, while Republicans saw it as mainly a political divide.
To sum it up...
“It’s as if everyone agrees that it’s too divisive and we can’t get along, but also that everyone else is wrong,” said Mr. Yang.
Regardless of what’s driving it, one thing seems likely: It’ll likely get worse before it gets better.