Pew Research: Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush, Obama Years
It’s no secret that American politics have become more polarized over the last several decades, particularly when it comes to hot-button issues such as taxation, climate change, and the national debt.
A 2012 report published by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, “Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush, Obama Years,” confirms these changes in the political values of American voters over time. The annual report surveyed more than 3,000 adults about social and economic issues, including politics, business, immigration and religion. The authors then compiled a comprehensive synthesis of survey findings from the last 25 years.
Key findings include:
- While differences of opinion along the lines of age, gender, ethnicity and class have remained relatively stable over time, the partisan divide has grown dramatically in recent years: “The Obama presidency has witnessed the most extreme partisan reaction to government in the past 25 years.”
- More voters were unaffiliated with a major party than at any other point in the last 75 years: as of 2012: 38% of respondents were independents, 32% were Democrats and 24% were Republicans. Of the independents, 43% considered themselves moderate, 30% leaned conservative and 22% leaned liberal.
- In 1987, 62% of Republicans thought government should “take care of people who can’t take care of themselves”; in 2012, only 40% of Republicans thought it should.
- Views on the environment are as divided as those on the social safety net; the gap is due to a significant decline in Republican support for governmental protections. In 1992, 86% of Republicans agreed that “there needs to be stricter laws and regulations to protect the environment.” In 2012, just 47% of Republicans agreed.
- Democrats’ views on religion and family values have changed significantly over the last 25 years. In 1987, 86% of Democrats said they had “old-fashioned values” about family and marriage; by 2012, only 60% said so. Republican support for “old-fashioned” values has remained relatively steady, from 92% in 1987 to 88% in 2012.
- The Republican party has gotten older, and more Republicans identify as “conservative.” The Democratic Party has gotten more nonwhite, and more Democrats identify as “liberal.”
The researchers note that the two major parties have rarely moved in tandem. Where polarization has increased, generally it is because one party shifted while the other stayed relatively constant. “As Americans head to the polls this November, their values and basic beliefs are more polarized along partisan lines than at any point in the past 25 years. Unlike in 1987, when this series of surveys began, the values gap between Republicans and Democrats is now greater than gender, age, race or class divides.”
Tags: elections, presidency, election issue
Read the study-related Christian Science Monitor article titled "Pew Survey: Partisan Polarization in US Hits 25-year High."
- What key insights from the article and the report should reporters be aware of as they cover issues related to the partisan divide in the United States?
Read the study titled “Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush, Obama Years.”
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?