divisions among Americans in other areas have
remained about the same. The second-largest
change has occurred on matters of class.
Overall, Pew found "much more stability than change across the 48 political values measures" that it has tracked since 1987.
Nearly all of the increases have occurred during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. During this period, both parties’ bases have often been critical of their parties for not standing up for their traditional positions. Currently, 71% of Republicans and 58% of Democrats say their parties have not done a good job in this regard.
With regard to the broad spectrum of values, basic demographic divisions – along lines such as gender, race, ethnicity, religion and class—are no wider than they have ever been. Men and women, whites, blacks and Hispanics, the highly religious and the less religious, and those with more and less education differ in many respects. However, these differences
have not grown in recent years, and for the most part pale in comparison to the overwhelming partisan divide we see today.
“Republicans are most distinguished by their increasingly minimalist views about the role of government and lack of support for environmentalism,” the study’s authors write. “Democrats have become more socially liberal and secular. Republicans and Democrats are most similar in their level of political engagement.”On environmental matters, stark differences have appeared. Pew first asked questions about the environment in its values survey two decades ago. Then, almost no partisan difference showed up. In the 2003 survey, however, Republicans and Democrats averaged a 13-point difference. In the latest survey, that gap over environmental protection has grown into a chasm 46 points wide. Republicans themselves have dropped from 86 percent in favor of stricter environmental controls in 1987 to just 47 percent now. By contrast, 93 percent of Democrats favored stricter controls in 1987 and 93 percent still do.
On measures regarding the social safety net, Democrats and Republicans are also far apart. On one measure, whether the government should help needy people even if this means adding to the national debt, the divide between Democrats and Republicans is 45 points. The difference also shows a 35-point difference over whether the government has a responsibility to care for the poor and whether it should feed the needy and ensure everyone has a roof over their heads.
While partisan polarization has crescendoed, another trend has been occurring simultaneously.
While Republicans and Democrats have been moving further apart in their beliefs, both groups have also been shrinking. Pew Research Center polling conducted so far in 2012 has found fewer Americans affiliating with one of the major parties than at any point in the past 25 years. And looking at data from Gallup going back to 1939, it is safe to say that there are more political independents in 2012 than at any point in the last 75 years. [...]The study also looked at views regarding business, labor, the rich-poor divide, religiosity, traditional and "family" values, censorship, gay teachers, civil liberties, foreign policy and global involvement, particularly military involvement. For instance, a majority says Wall Street makes an important contribution to the nation, but a larger majority views it as greedy. And almost two-thirds of Americans say police should be required to get a warrant to search houses of people who might be sympathetic to terrorists.
Currently, 38% of Americans identify as independents, while 32% affiliate with the
Democratic Party and 24% affiliate with the GOP. That is little changed from recent years,
but long-term trends show that both parties have lost support.
Here is where you can read the entire 164-page survey [pdf]