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As Divided as Ever


Six months into President Joe Biden's administration, America is as divided as it's ever been.

Last week marked the end of President Joe Biden’s first six months in office. Back on January 20, he told the nation, “Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together. Uniting our people. And uniting our nation.”


So, to borrow from the late New York City Mayor Ed Koch, how’s he doin’? We take a look this week, but before we get to that, let’s examine what percentage of Americans aligns itself with each party.


According to Gallup’s most recent party affiliation tracking poll, 30 percent of voters called themselves Democrats while just 24 percent said they were Republicans as of last month. Nearly half, 44 percent, called themselves independents. Those numbers are similar to what they were four years ago when the country was six months into former President Donald Trump’s term in office. In June 2017, 26 percent of American voters said they were Republicans; 30 percent said they were Democrats; and 42 percent said they were independents.


In terms of party affiliation, we are still divided. And when it comes to the issues, several recent public polls also paint a strong ideological chasm in Americans’ views.


Americans Are Divided on Top of Mind Issues

Two public policy questions, infrastructure and vaccine mandates, have consumed the news headlines over the last few weeks.


Perhaps not surprisingly, Americans are divided on both.


Regarding infrastructure investment, a July Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found strong support among voters in both parties for new spending on physical infrastructure like roads, bridges, drinking water systems, and the electricity grid. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this is where agreement ends.


Support among Republicans fell off significantly when it comes to investments in transit, for example. Only 42 percent of Republicans said they support funding for that priority while 76 percent of Democrats said they do. One-third of Republicans (37 percent) said they support funding for freight rail and less than one-quarter (23 percent) want new investments in electric vehicle charging stations. Republicans are even skeptical of broadband investment. Only 44 percent said they wanted Congress to spend more money to bring the internet to more Americans. Large majorities of Democrats supported each of those priorities, meanwhile.


Republicans also strongly oppose President Biden’s plan for investments in other types of “human” infrastructure. For example:

  • Less than half of Republicans (47 percent) said they support universal preschool;

  • Only 41 percent of GOP voters said they support investments in affordable housing;

  • Just one-third (34 percent) of Republicans said they want to keep the expanded child tax credit; and

  • Only 27 percent of GOP voters said they support free community college tuition.


Again, large majorities of Democrats supported investments in these priorities.


There is one issue where voters in the two parties are more closely aligned: 62 percent of Republicans and 85 percent of Democrats said they would approve of spending more money to hire caregivers for the elderly.


Vaccine mandates are another issue in the news. Here, too, America is divided.


According to an early June Axios/Ipsos survey, 52 percent of Americans said they would support requiring proof of vaccine status to return to places of employment. Digging into the data shows just how partisan this support really is, however. More than three-quarters of Democrats (76 percent) said they would support this type of mandate while less than one-third (29 percent) of Republicans said they would.


A Politico-Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll released this week found 62 percent of Democrats would support requiring public school students aged 12 or older to be vaccinated before they can attend school in person. About the same number of Republicans (60 percent) opposed that idea. A majority of both Republicans (56 percent) and Democrats (75 percent) do believe teachers should be vaccinated, however.


Americans Are Divided on the Direction of the Country

This past week, the media and polling firm Morning Consult released its annual State of the Parties survey. This poll provides an in-depth look at the perceptions of parties, gauging voters’ views of what Republicans and Democrats stand for and how they feel about how things currently are going in the United States.


No surprise: the two parties are very divided on the direction of the country.


With their party in complete power in Washington, D.C., 81 percent of Democrats said they think the country is moving in the right direction. Only 17 percent of Republicans and 40 percent of independents feel the same way. Baby Boomers and Generation Z are among the most pessimistic Americans while Millennials are the most optimistic. And regardless of their political affiliation, men are slightly happier with the direction of the country than women.


And Where Do independent Voters Fall?

Do independent voters’ lack of enthusiasm about the country’s direction mean they will be likely to vote with the GOP in next year’s congressional midterm elections?


According to the Morning Consult annual State of the Parties survey, not necessarily.


independent voters seem disgruntled in general — and that feeling is obvious in their opinions about both parties. For example, Morning Consult found:

  • 55 percent of independents think the Republican party itself is headed in the wrong direction. (More than one-quarter of Republican voters, 27 percent, also feel that way.) Fifty-three percent think the Democratic party is headed in the wrong direction. (Democrats are less likely than Republicans to criticize their own party. Only 11 percent of Democrats said their party is headed in the wrong direction.)

  • One-third of independent voters think the Republican party is too conservative while 14 percent think it is not conservative enough. Meanwhile, nearly half (46 percent) of independent voters said they think the Democratic party is too liberal. Only eight percent said it is not liberal enough.

  • Half of independent voters said they think the Republican party has changed for the worse over the last few years. The same portion of independents made that statement about the Democratic party.

  • Half of independent voters said they think the Republican party is too backward-looking and half said it was “stale.” Only 37 percent and 44 percent of independents, respectively, made those statements about the Democratic party.


There is also only a small difference in how independents feel about each party’s ability to govern. Twenty-nine percent of independent voters said they think the Democratic party is capable of governing compared to 33 percent for the Republican party. Twenty-seven percent of independent voters said they think the Democratic party is capable of tackling the biggest issues facing the country compared to 33 percent for the Republican party.


Where there is a difference is on specific issues.


Democrats, at 32 percent, are slightly less likely than independents (41 percent) and Republicans (39 percent) to cite economic issues as their top concern, but worries about taxes, wages, and jobs dominate no matter with which party a person affiliates. Health care issues are the runner-up concern for Democrats while security issues, including terrorism and border security, are GOP voters’ second-most cited concern.


Diving a bit deeper into the poll data, we can see what policy issues matter most to independent swing voters. For example:

  • Exactly half of independent voters said it was at least somewhat important to them that a candidate supports allowing immigrants into the United States. In contrast, 70 percent of independents said securing the U.S. border with Mexico is important to them.

  • Half of all independents said stricter gun control laws were an important factor in earning their vote.

  • More than half of independent voters (55 percent) said it was at least somewhat important that a candidate support universal health care to earn their vote.

  • Fifty-one percent of independent voters said support for Israel was important to them while 52 percent said the same about free trade.

  • Nearly three-fifths of independents (63 percent) said it is at least somewhat important to them that a candidate wants to raise taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations.

  • Sixty-three percent of independent voters said efforts to combat climate change were important to them.

  • independent voters seemed most concerned about the national debt. Nearly eight in 10, 79 percent, said reducing the national debt would play a factor in getting their vote.


Less than half of independent voters said a candidate must support increased military spending (48 percent), LGBTQ+ rights (46 percent), President Biden (41 percent), an end the legislative filibuster (33 percent), former President Donald Trump (32 percent), and defunding the police (25 percent) to earn their vote.


What do these numbers mean for the 15 months we have left before Election 2022? Unfortunately, that lawmakers will continue to be as dug into their ideologies as voters are.

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