With just months to go until the fall’s midterm elections, voters feel strongly that the country is headed in the wrong direction. Fueled by self-segregation into like minded communities, Americans feel that political division remains a key problem in the nation’s civil discourse.
According to the latest Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) Battleground Civility Poll, voters are expressing a higher level of concern over the level of polarization in the country. When asked about political division on a scale of 0 to 100 (with 0 being no division at all and 100 being the edge of civil war), respondents gave a mean score of 71.74, a slight increase to feelings in the previous battleground poll with a mean score of 70.36. There was a decrease in voters who agree with the statement “I am optimistic about the future because young people are committed to making this country a better place to live for everyone,” with a net decrease of 23%. However, while there was a notable decline in agreement on this statement, there was majority agreement (55%) among voters aged 18-34, signaling that the younger generation still views themselves as agents of change.
The poll also highlighted the extent to which voters have separated themselves from others who are not like them, surrounding themselves with close friends and family that are remarkably similar to themselves. A majority say that all or most of their friends (60%) “share the same political beliefs” as they do, while only 38% say some or none do. Similarly, a majority of voters say that most of their close friends and family “vote for the same candidates” (55% all/most, 37% some/none) and “are in the same political party” (57% all/most, 40% some/none) as they are. The trend holds when looking at other key measures, with voters offering that most of their close friends and family “share the same religious beliefs” (53% all/most, 45% some/none), “are in the same ethnic group” (67% all/most, 32% some/none), and “are in the same economic class” (51% all/most, 47% some/none). And with the exception of sharing their economic class, Republicans and Democrats are both more likely than independents to have “a lot” or “some” of their friends fit all of these aforementioned criteria than independents.
Hope remains in other portions of the polling, particularly as it pertains to candidates willing to compromise to get things done. Two thirds of respondents said they were more likely to vote for a candidate willing to compromise with others as opposed to a candidate who consistently fights for values. This answer has remained consistent over more than two years of polling, with at least 65% of respondents selecting the candidate willing to compromise to create change in each poll.
This response is particularly prominent among younger voters in the 18-34 demographic with 72% preferring the compromise candidate over the fighter. Self-described centrists also strongly prefer compromise and civility. These voters make up 67% of respondents to this survey, highlighting a key bloc of voters that overwhelmingly prefer the candidate willing to compromise (73%).
“While political division across the country remains high, people are offering a clear path forward for political leaders,” said Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Executive Director Mo Elleithee. “With a considerable group of voters preferring compromise oriented candidates, and a majority who consider themselves centrists, there is hope for those looking for more civility in our politics.”
“Voters might be frustrated now, but the optimistic spirit of the country remains,” said Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group. “There is a clear opening for politicians able to talk effectively about change and willing to embrace deal making. While voters might be increasingly retreating to comfortable cocoons of similarity, political leaders willing to take bold steps to preach and practice civility could be historic leaders.”
“When we polled in January, we said in our memo that ‘easily the most positive piece of news out of the whole survey’ was the high percentage of voters who agreed with the statement ‘I am optimistic about the future because young people are committed to making this country a better place to live for everyone,’” said Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. “Unfortunately, this has diminished greatly. With a decrease from 58-38 to 47-50, it is cause for concern. Young people themselves remain positive about their future impact, with 55% agreeing, yet that is down from January’s 74% who agree with that statement.”