August 13, 2012

Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush, Obama Years

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When it comes to American views on government and social values, the average partisan gap has nearly doubled over the last 25 years — from 10 percentage points in 1987 to 18 percentage points.

As Americans head to the polls this November, their values and basic beliefs are more polarized along partisan lines than at any point in the past 25 years. Unlike in 1987, when the Pew Research Center began its series of surveys on American values, the gap between Republicans and Democrats is now greater than gender, age, race or class divides.

During this time, the average partisan gap has nearly doubled — from 10 percentage points in 1987 to 18 percentage points in the new study.

Nearly all of the increases have occurred during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. During this period, both parties’ bases have often been critical of their parties for not standing up for their traditional positions. Currently, 71% of Republicans and 58% of Democrats say their parties have not done a good job in this regard.

Both parties have become smaller and more ideologically homogeneous. Republicans are dominated by self-described conservatives, while a smaller but growing number of Democrats call themselves liberals. Among Republicans, conservatives continue to outnumber moderates by about two-to-one. And there are now as many liberal Democrats as moderate Democrats. And while many Americans have given up their party identification over the past 25 years and now call themselves independents, the polarization extends also to independents, most of whom lean toward a political party. Read More