Ideological Polarization in the United States Dividing and Conquering the Voting Public

We need look no further than the Senate confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh to see that Congress no longer acts in the best interest of Americans, rather, they are playing to their increasingly partisan voting and donor bases.  A recent look at the evolving ideological polarization by Pew gives us a sense of how both sides of the spectrum are growing further and further apart and how there is growing distrust between the two sides of the spectrum.

The American Trends Panel was created in 2014 by the Pew Research Center and is a nationally representative panel of randomly selected American adults who have been recruited from both landline and cellphone random digit dial surveys.  These panelists then participate in the survey with a monthly self-administered Web survey.  Of the original 10,013 adults interviewed for the 2014 Political Polarization and Typology Survey, 9,809 were invited to participate as panelists and a total of 5,,338 agreed to participate.  An additional 2,976 panelists were added in 2015 after participating in the 2015 Pew Research Center Survy on Government and and additional 1,628 panelists were added in 2017.  For the 2018 political ideology survey, 4,581 respondents were drawn with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

Here is a breakdown of the participants by ideology along with the percent of the weighted sample:

Republicans – 1,204 (26 percent of the total)

Republican leaners – 740 (17 percent of the total)

Democrats – 1,703 (32 percent of the total)

Democrats leaners – 831 (21 percent of the total)

Let’s look at the results.  Here is a graphic showing how Republicans and Democrats view each other’s political ideology using an 11-point ideological scale where a score of 0 is “very liberal” and a score of 10 is “very conservative” with Republicans’ views shown in red and Democrats’ views shown in blue:

Let’s start by looking at the left side of the graphic which looks at how Republicans feel about Democrats and their political ideology and compares this to how Democrats feel about their own ideology.  As you can see, 55 percent of Republicans view the Democratic Party as “very liberal” (i.e. a rating of “zero”) with the mean score being 1.5.  You can also see that Democrats give themselves a mean score of 3.9 or moderately liberal with only 8 percent of Democrats viewing themselves as very conservative.

Now, let’s look at the right side of the graphic which looks at how Democrats feel about Republicans and their political ideology and compares this to how Republicans feel about their own ideology.  As you can see, only 35 percent of Democrats view Republicans as very conservative (i.e. a rating of “ten”) with the mean score being 7.4 or quite conservative.  You can also see that Republicans vie themselves a mean score of 7.1, not all that different than how Democrats feel about Republican’s ideology.  

What is interesting to note is that Republicans’ views of their own party’s ideology and the ideology of the Democratic Party have changed rather substantially since 2016 whereas the views of Democrats on both their own ideology and the ideology of the Republican Party has changed very little between 2016 and 2018.  On average, Republicans now place their own ideology further to the right now than they did in 2016 (a shift from a score of 6.1 to a score of 7.1) and see the Democrats shifting substantially to the left (a shift from a score of 2.1 to a score of 1.5).

Overall, 25 percent of the American public views themselves as very conservative (a score between 8 and 10).  This compares to 21 percent of Americans who view themselves as very liberal (a score of between 0 and 2).  Political ideology also varies with two factors:

1.) Age: Older Americans (over the age of 65) are far more likely to view themselves as very conservative with 37 percent giving themselves a score of between 8 and 10.  This compares to only 21 percent of older Americans who view themselves as very liberal.  In contrast, younger Americans (between the ages of 18 and 29) are somewhat more likely to view themselves as very liberal with 24 percent giving themselves a score of between 0 and 2.  This compares to 14 percent of younger Americans who view themselves as very conservative.

2.) Educational Attainment: Less educated Americans (high school or less) are far more likely to view themselves as very conservative with 32 percent giving themselves a score of between 8 and 10 compared to only 14 percent who view themselves as very liberal.  As educational level rises, the percentage of Americans who view themselves as very conservative falls from 32 percent to 16 percent for those with a post-graduate degree.  In contrast, as educational level rises, the percentage of Americans who view themselves as very liberal rises from 14 percent to 34 percent for those with a post-graduate degree.

Here is a graphic that summarizes the impact of age and education on political ideology:

This study by Pew gives us a very clear view of how both sides of the political spectrum view each other and how age and educational attainment play a role in political self-identification.  Politicians  of both political parties are only too aware that, by dividing voters, they can conquer their personal place in Congress and gain or retain control over the federal government.  With midterm elections looming, you can be certain that you will see many examples of how low the two mainstream American political parties will stoop to ensure that theirs is the voice for all of the United States.

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