Not So Divided After All

Americans beaten down by the vitriolic presidential election can be forgiven for accepting the conventional wisdom that the country is irredeemably polarized, with divisions so profound as to make governing all but impossible.

But new data suggest that there is more consensus among voters than is normally thought. The data, from the Pew Research Center, The National Election Studies, and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, show that on a wide variety of issues, super-majorities of both parties support the same issues. For example, most Democrats and Republicans agree that:

  • The NSA surveillance programs have gone too far and should be scaled back
  • Social Security and Medicare should be preserved for future generations without significant cuts
  • Legal immigrants make our country stronger
  • The nation’s campaign finance system should be reformed to limit the influence of money in politics
  • Employers should be required to offer paid leave to parents of new children
  • Men and women should receive equal pay for equal work  
  • The nation should spend more to improve and repair its infrastructure such as roads and bridges

Even on an issue as controversial as health care, ordinary Americans agree far more than they disagree. While people have a strong reaction to Obamacare, large majorities (60% or more) of both parties agree on what should be included in any health reform. They agree that young people should be able to remain on their parent’s insurance until they are 26, that preventative services should be fully covered by insurance plans, that insurance companies should not able to bar people who have pre-existing conditions from insurance coverage, and that the government should help subsidize the costs of insurance for low- and middle-income Americans. Ordinary Americans agree on the details of health reform, even if the politicians do not.
It is not just these specific issues where the parties agree—they also share broad outlooks about the nation’s priorities and its foreign policy. Large majorities of both parties agree that the next administration should focus on jobs and the economy, and work to lower health care costs. Further, in the international realm, Americans of all parties agree the U.S. needs to play an active role in world affairs, and that the world is safer and more secure when we do so. Large majorities also support maintaining alliances such as NATO and strengthening institutions such as the United Nations.  
In short, Democrats and Republicans have a good deal of common ground. While they disagree on some issues, they agree on many more. The bottom line is that “this is quite a united nation,” said Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. A recent Rand Corporation reported agreed, noting that “despite the increasingly polarized tone of American politics, we find that most Americans actually answer similarly on most questions of political belief.” 


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