WASHINGTON – Are Americans divided into two warring camps as we’re led to believe? A study of 8,000 Americans released Wednesday found more than three-quarters say our differences aren’t so great and their attitudes are not a 50-50 split.
The new research, undertaken by the global polling firm YouGov for advocacy group More In Common, found more than 25 percent of Americans do not identify with a party. The organization’s goal, which started in Europe to find common ground on immigration and refugees settlements, is to build communities that are less polarized.
“People … are desperate for change,” the study’s research director, Stephen Hawkins, said. “We were pleasantly surprised that people said differences weren’t so big we can’t work together.”
The study asked respondents to rank issues rather than choose Democrat or Republican.
Hawkins said researchers found the respondents fell into seven “tribes” rather than Republicans versus Democrats – Progressive Activists, Passive Liberals, Politically Disengaged, Moderates, Traditional Conservatives and Devoted Conservatives.
The percentage of people in each tribe fit a bell-shaped curve. Far left or far right groups like “Progressive Activists” and “Devoted Conservatives” together comprised the smallest amount at 14 percent. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 1 to 2 percent.
The largest single tribe was “Politically Disengaged” at 26 percent. “Politics is not how they define themselves,” Hawkins said, adding that they are more focused on their jobs and daily lives.
Moderates accounted for 15 percent of the total and Traditional Conservatives were 19 percent. Meanwhile, Passive and Traditional Liberals combined for 26 percent of the total.
Ruy Teixeira, senior researcher with the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, said More in Common’s methodology is not a statistical analysis and the researchers’ groupings are subjective. As for the organization’s ultimate goal of less partisan communities, he said it’s not a new idea.
“It is a common and noble sentiment that doesn’t seem to have as much traction in politics today,” Teixeira said. “This is an interesting addition to this subject, but the amount of following up is limited.”
There are other organizations that have a mission of creating nonpartisan communities, but few put out studies, Teixeira said.
“[Polarization]’s something that’s been emerging for years, but reached a high point,” Hawkins said. “We see this polarization is creating tribalism in every walk of life.”
He said many people don’t talk to neighbors or family for fear of getting into a fight. In the survey, respondents said today is one of the most divisive times in their lifetimes.
Hawkins calls those liberals and conservatives in the middle of the bell curve the “Exhausted Majority.”
While about 80 percent of Americans agree problems of racism and sexism are serious, slightly more respondents said “political correctness” has gone too far.
“People feel pressured to think a certain way,” Hawkins said.
This means to engage the “Exhausted Majority,” there needs to be conversations that are “where people feel more open to share their views,” he said.