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11/24/2018 10:46:00 AM
COMMENTARY: Political divisions worry most Americans

Kelly Hawes, Herald Bulletin CNHI News Indiana Columnist

A new report by an organization called More in Common says nearly nine out of 10 Americans are worried this nation’s political divisions will lead to violence.

They’re exhausted by all the fighting, and they want both parties to find ways to compromise.

“This sense of fatigue is combined with a sense of deep anxiety, with every prospect of an escalation in political division in the near future,” the researchers write in their report. 

Such are the findings of a survey carried out in the days surrounding the recent midterm election. The online survey followed up on a report called “The Hidden Tribes of America,” which was based on a study of 8,000 Americans from across the political spectrum. The initial report kicked off a year-long project aimed at better understanding the forces behind our political divide.

For the follow-up survey, researchers contacted more than 2,000 people, all of them part of the original sample.

Both of the major political parties come in for criticism in the survey’s findings. Sixty-one percent of respondents believe the Republican Party is becoming too extreme while 56 percent say the same thing about the Democrats.

Nearly eight out of 10 respondents think social media is making us more divided as a nation.

Also coming in for criticism were the mainstream media and President Donald J. Trump. Asked to list the causes of division in this country, 56 percent of respondents named the mainstream media while 53 percent named President Trump.

Ah, but what is the biggest factor dividing Americans? Responding to that question, 31 percent of those surveyed named President Trump, 21 percent named the mainstream media and 12 percent named President Barack Obama.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the answers to that question differed widely depending on the respondents’ political leanings.

Among what the researchers call Progressive Activists, 42 percent blame President Trump and 34 percent blame the Republican Party, while only 8 percent blame the mainstream media and none blame President Obama.

Among Devoted Conservatives, on the other hand, 35 percent blame the mainstream media, 36 percent blame President Obama, 16 percent blame the Democratic Party and only 2 percent blame President Trump.

The results of the survey seem to support the results of the election. Those on the left of the political spectrum turned out at or even above the percentage they recorded in the 2016 presidential election while those on the right saw their participation drop.

The researchers listed the top three issues drawing Democratic voters to the polls as health care, President Trump and jobs and the economy. One in three voters in the midterm election said President Trump was a major factor in their decision on whether and how to vote. 

Not a lot of voters switched their allegiance, according to the researchers. The survey found only 3 percent of respondents who “crossed over,” voting for President Trump in 2016 and then voting for a Democrat two years later.

Like the initial survey, the follow-up concludes we’re not nearly as divided as we think. Though those at the political extremes tend to think their side is always right and the other side is always wrong, the researchers found that 54 percent of Americans reject that idea.

And an even larger percentage is tired of all the wrangling.

“Following the midterms, 89 percent of Americans say that they are feeling ‘exhausted by the division in politics,’” the researchers wrote in their latest report. “An even higher proportion, 90 percent of Americans, say they want both parties to find places to compromise.”

Will the parties listen? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

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