Pew Research just published an absolutely wonderful--and frightening--report about the growing levels of political polarization in America and how that's affecting not just our politics, but our everyday lives. It is based on a survey of 10,000 Americans.
The report shows that there's been a steady decline over the past twenty years of the political center: Americans who consistently share both liberal and conservative positions on issues. Instead, there's been a steady drift to the edges, with more and more Americans holding consistently liberal or consistently conservative positions.
That change has resulted in a situation now where there is virtually no ideological overlap between Democrats and Republicans. To put that in perspective, twenty years ago 23% of all Republicans were more liberal than the median Democrat and 17% of Democrats were more conservative than the median Republican. Today those numbers are just 4% and 5% respectively.
This growing political siloization has lead to each party having an increasingly negative view of the other party.
More disturbing, that negative view goes well beyond simple dislike. A substantial chunk of both parties view the other as not simply being bad, but literally being a threat to the well-being of the country.
This political polarization is also shaping where people live and what they feel is important in their communities. Liberals prefer to live in cities and conservatives prefer to live in more rural settings.
And while both groups agree that being near their extended families, good schools, and access to the outdoors is desirable for their community, there are also significant areas of difference.
Things like the arts and being surrounded by people from mixed racial and ethnic backgrounds are very important components of a community for liberals, while conservatives heavily discount those things and would much prefer to surround themselves with people who practiced the same religion.
These survey results are buttressed by what's happening in the real world. An excellent example of this is the series of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel articles, Dividing Lines, that detailed the increasingly partisan split between metro Milwaukee and the surrounding counties.
The Pew report provides some very interesting breakdowns of the growing partisan divide on key issues, but perhaps the most depressing chart is this one:
It's depressing because it shows that ideologues from both sides of the political spectrum will continue to have an outsized--and likely increasing--impact on politics. On both sides, people who really hate the other side are nearly twice as like to always vote as someone in the middle. That means it's simply more effective for political campaigns to whip up the most liberal or the most conservative members than it is to reach out to the those in the middle even though the middle still represents most Americans.