Democrats, Republicans and the New Politics of Hate. In a deeply divided nation, Democrats and Republicans don’t just disagree, they hate each other.
DIVIDED WE STAND.
Americans not only disagree, according to an in-depth study of the nation’s culture wars and partisanship, they have diametrically different values and perspectives on America itself, with the pluralism that once united the country now serving to divide it.
And it’s not just a matter of different opinions on policy, says Robert Jones, CEO of PRRI, a nonpartisan group that studies politics, culture and religion. People have largely picked a side, and they really don’t like the other one.
“Several decades ago or a generation ago, partisanship was something people took to the ballot box,” Jones says. “Today, it’s something we bring home and take to bed. It’s very personal, and it’s very visceral.”
Nearly half the country (48%) thinks the Republican Party has been taken over by racists, a view held by 80% of Democrats. And the Democratic Party? Nationally, 44% think it’s been taken over by socialists – and 82% of Republicans share that opinion, according to the extensive study, “Fractured Nation: Widening Partisan Polarization and Key Issues in 2020 Presidential Elections.”
The two major parties themselves, Jones says, have largely come to reflect the two Americas, with Republicans encompassing white Christians who feel victimized by the cultural and social changes, and Democrats, the African-Americans, Latinos and women who are driving many of those demographic and social changes.
White evangelicals flocked to the GOP after the civil rights movement took hold in the late 1960s, Jones says, and the Democratic Party became identified with the civil rights movement. That started a “sorting out” that mingles party identification with race and religion, he says.
The trend really took hold during the Reagan years, but “we’re seeing it hit at an extreme level,” Jones says. “The partisan polarization is driven less by the fact that people love their own party as much as that they hate the other one. They really see each other as the enemy.”
More than two-thirds (69%) of Republicans believe discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks, compared to 21% of Democrats who feel that way, according to PRRI. For Republicans who cite Fox News as their primary news source, the number rises to 77%.
Asked if they agreed that “immigrants are invading the country and changing American culture,” 63% of Republicans said yes, and 20% of Democrats agreed. When it comes to gender roles and the MeToo movement, Republicans felt threatened: a majority of Republicans (53%) believe men are punished “just for being men,” and 65% of GOPers think society as a whole has become “too soft and feminine.” Among Democrats, 23% agreed men were being punished for being male, and 26% agreed the nation was becoming “too soft and feminine.”
More than half of Republicans (55%) believe it’s necessary to believe in God to be a moral person, compared with 35% of Democrats who think that way.
When it comes to issues, Americans aren’t just divided over how to handle them. They can’t even agree on what the issues are, according to the PRRI study.
Of a dozen issues, only two – health care (65%) and terrorism (54%) – were listed as important by a majority of Americans. There is no overlap, either, among the top three issues listed by Republicans and Democrats.
Democrats, asked to name the most critical issues facing the nation, most commonly mentioned health care (77%), climate change (72%) and foreign interference in presidential elections (63%). Republicans listed terrorism (63%), immigration (60%) and crime (50%) as the most critical issues.
Jobs and employment – often considered a bellwether for an incumbent’s re-election chances – are rated as less important to Americans, with just 45% overall identifying it as a critical issue. Republicans have considered the strong national economy and low unemployment rate a huge plus, while Democrats have argued that the economic benefits have helped mostly the wealthy and corporations.
And when it comes to Trump, the battle lines are drawn largely according to party, the PRRI survey says. About half – 51% – of the country now supports impeachment removal from office, compared to 47% who felt that way in PRRI’s survey before the House’s impeachment inquiry was announced and the Ukraine story took hold. But that 4-point increase, which Jones says is significant, given that it happened in a month’s time, is almost entirely because of growing Democratic support for impeachment: 93% of GOPers are opposed to impeachment (compared to 94% in mid-September), while 88% of Democrats now support impeachment, up from 78% in mid-September, Jones says.
Trump suffers from low approval ratings in the PRRI study – 64% of American have an unfavorable view of the president, compared to 35% who have a positive opinion of him, his lowest net favorability rating in office. But there, too, there is a partisan divide: 82% of Republicans approve of Trump, compared to a paltry 6% of Democrats. (The president’s job approval did tick up among Americans generally from 39% in mid-September to 43% in mid-October.)
Buttressing Trump’s own campaign barb – that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York and there would still be a group of core supporters who would stand by him – the PRRI survey found that 42% of Republicans who approve of his job performance said there is virtually nothing Trump could do to lose their vote.
Despite the emergence of two entrenched political and cultural camps, there does appear to be opportunity for both major parties, the PRRI survey shows. Two-thirds of Americans overall who approve of Trump’s job performance say he could indeed do something to lose their votes, offering an opening for the eventual Democratic nominee.
But the survey also found some wiggle room for Trump: 37% said they will support the Democrat, no matter who it is, and 28% said they will vote for Trump, regardless of whom the Democrats nominate. But 33% of registered voters said their ballot box decision will depend on whom the Democrats select as their nominee next year.
The three leading contenders who could lure voters away from Trump are Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (mentioned by 32%), former vice president Joe Biden (31%) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (24%), according to a supplemental memo to the study, based on more recent research. That memo also had Biden ahead among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, with 24% support. Both Sanders and Warren have 16% support each.
Demographic changes by themselves would make for a Democratic victory, Jones says, except that the “ballot box looks like it did 10 years ago,” with white Christians making up a majority of voters even though they are no longer a majority of the country. “In 2020, it’s really going to matter who shows up,” Jones says. And it will be two very different Americas making the decision.