As Ohio contemplates a law that criminalizes abortion, while New York City goes to the Supreme Court looking to them to uphold the strictest gun laws in the country, and as cable news tries to make us believe that the political divide in America is greater than it has ever been, we prefer to look at the facts.
Earlier this year, G&B Strategic Intelligence conducted a national study of 5,300 Americans 18+ from all 50 states.
Historically, respondents have been asked to put themselves on a single scale of very liberal to very conservative. We chose to isolate three key areas: social issues, economic issues and foreign affairs in an effort to further parse attitudes of Americans today.
The “bell curve” we see below is very typical. Note that we see a mean score toward the middle for all three areas, but that score is slightly to the left of moderate in terms of social issues, and slightly more conservative in terms of economic and foreign affairs issues. About 60% in all three categories cluster around the center, with the obvious peak leaning toward moderation in all three. If we look only at these data, we can be lulled into complacency that extreme polarization is a construct of cable news and talk radio.
When we look at the individual issue categories separated by party affiliation, the picture looks quite different. While we see the bell curve for the total sample, we see the polarization when looking at the individual party affiliation.
Note that about a quarter of our registered voters initially told us that they were affiliated with neither party. But also note that when forced to make a choice, roughly a third said if forced they’d lean toward the democrats, and another third said they would lean toward the republicans. This leaves us with just over 7% of the total sample who identified as true independents and declared no preference for either party.
When we look at the “total” sample we see the typical bell curve and we see it again with this tiny fraction of the voting public.
This tells us that the “moderation” seen in the mean and the bell curves are simply the averages of very polar constituencies.
This also supports the contention on the left and the right that “compromise” is futile, and impasse has become the norm.
The challenge now is to figure out what to do about it.
Candidates and PACs should probably figure out a way to create a non-centrist position for all issues. For instance, most Americans agree that open borders are bad and we probably shouldn’t be allowing criminals into the country. Until 2016, this might have been an area of concern, but for all but a few, not an issue that generated much controversy.
For those moderates in the country, a line has now been drawn in the sand. You’re either for family separation, “refugee” camps, mass incarceration/deportation of the undocumented and refusal to acknowledge kids as Americans who’ve known no other country – or you believe that the borders are being overridden by caravans of rapists and terrorists and scary predators. Changing the conversation to the rational and shining a light on “alternative facts” are the responsibility of Democrats hoping to have any impact in 2020. And, more than ever, a unified, rational and civilized message must be framed for every issue. The Republicans have done a fantastic job of getting into lock-step with talking points that have only a vague connection with reality. To counter this narrative with those who, frankly, don’t pay all that much attention, the appeal to civility, reason and truth must be consistent, loud and reinforced constantly starting now and continuing through the election.
Remember that if a lie spoken a thousand times becomes truth, the only way to counter it is by speaking the truth FIVE thousand times.