• November 26, 2020
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America remains a divided nation. Distrust between Democrats and Republicans grows. (Photo courtesy of johnhain on pixabay)

Anyone following the presidential election for the past few months can agree that both parties have at least one thing in common: animosity for the other side. 

President Trump and President-elect Biden’s differing stances on a wide range of issues and policies is representative of the deep-seated partisanship (bias in favor of a particular party or cause) that defines American society today. 

In the days leading up to the election, Americans faced competing perceptions. On one hand, a majority of polls showed Joe Biden in the lead by a wide margin. On the other hand, history showed the increasingly common story of an extremely close election. 

As the votes started to come in, the Democratic party’s hope for a “blue-wave” dissipated.  Once again, the polls were wrong, and the race too close to call on election day. 

America remains a severely polarized nation, divided along partisan lines.

In the coming months, both Democrats and Republicans have cause for disappointment. Even though Democrat Joe Biden won the presidency, the Democratic party lost seats in the House of Representatives and did not gain major ground in the Senate. So, the prospect of a divided government in Washington is becoming more likely.

To make matters worse, when elected officials take office in January, they will be representing two coalitions of voters who distrust one another and fundamentally disagree on policies, plans, and even problems the U.S. faces. Much of the disagreement is increasingly divided along geographic as well as ideological differences.

Geographical Divide

Recent data from the election confirms that the rural-urban divide continues to be a huge aspect of political separation. 

In a recent study, Quartz calculated Biden’s share in each of the (approximately) 2,200 counties in which the majority of votes were counted on November 5th. The data showed that in nearly half of the counties with less than 100 people per square mile, Biden won around 30% of the vote. In the 170 counties with more than 2,000 people per square mile, he won (on average) about 55%.

This is indicative of a higher concentration of Democrats in cities and suburbs and a higher concentration of Republicans in the surrounding rural areas. Election maps show dense liberal cities amidst a sea of sparsely populated red.

For instance, in North Carolina, counties like Mecklenburg, Durham, Halifax, and Wake voted blue while most of the surrounding counties favored Trump.

In Texas (a red state), counties with major cities like San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and Houston voted in favor of Biden while other rural counties voted for Trump. Even in New York, a traditionally blue state, counties with cities like Buffalo, Rochester, and New York City favored Biden while most of the surrounding counties favored Trump.

This trend has only increased in recent years. According to Pew Research Center, over the past two decades, “rural areas have moved in Republican direction and urban counties have become even more Democratic.” 

In 1998, 55% of voters in urban counties identified as Democrats and 37% as Republicans. In 2017, the gap had widened, with 62% of voters in urban counties identifying as Democrats and only 31% as Republicans.

In 1998, 45% of voters in rural counties identified as Democrats and 44% identified as Republicans. In 2017, 38% of voters in rural counties identified as Democrats while 54% identified as Republicans.

With such a geographical separation between those of different party affiliations, it’s no wonder the ideological divide is widening. The majority of people in either urban or rural areas have a slim chance of regularly coming into contact with people of differing beliefs. 

Ideological Divide

Over time, the Democratic and Republican parties became further rooted in their respective ideologies. 

In a study, Stanford University political economists Levi Boxell and Matthew Gentzkow and Brown University political economist Jesse Shapiro found the U.S. is polarizing faster than other democracies around the world. One possible explanation for this is that parties are more closely aligned with races, religions, and political ideologies than they were in the past.

According to Pew Research Center, “from the late 1980’s to the mid-2000’s, no more than about a third of Americans said there were major differences between the two parties. But the share expressing this view has increased, especially over the past decade.” In a survey conducted last year, 74% of Republicans and 59% of Democrats said there are major differences in what the parties stand for.

In a 2018 survey, 35% of those in urban areas and 57% in rural areas said the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens traditional American customs and values.  69% of those in urban areas and 47% in rural areas said whites benefit a great deal from advantages blacks do not have. 

70% of those in urban areas and 49% in rural said the government should do more to solve problems. 63% of those in urban areas and 46% of those in rural areas said its a good thing for society that same-sex marriage is legal. 

Regarding abortion, 61% of those in urban areas and 46% in rural said it should be legal. 52% of those in rural areas and only 36% in urban areas said it should be illegal.

All of these percentages show a common trend: people living in urban and rural areas (and consequently, Democrats and Republicans) differ in views of policy and ideology.

There were significant differences in what issues voters believed to be most important when considering who to vote for in the election. In a survey conducted in late July into early August, Trump supporters placed the most importance on the economy and crime while Biden supporters prioritized health care, Covid-19, inequality, and climate change.

The largest gaps between the two coalitions were about health care, Covid-19, violent crime, inequality, and climate change. 

For instance, 82% of Biden supporters said the coronavirus outbreak was ‘very important’ to their vote while only 39% of Trump supporters said the same. Similarly, 68% of Biden supporters considered climate change ‘very important’ to their vote while only 11% of Trump supporters said the same.

Distrust

Democrats and Republicans do not agree on much in the current political environment but there is a widespread belief in both parties that the country’s partisan divide is growing. In a study conducted by Pew Research Center last year, 78% of the public say divisions between Republicans and Democrats in this country are increasing. 

Unfortunately, underlying the many policy disagreements between the two groups is distrust and animosity. Both parties rarely have anything nice to say about the other and compromise seems a thing of the past.

In a survey conducted in September of last year, 64% of Republicans said Democrats are more close-minded than other Americans while 75% of Democrats said the same about Republicans. 63% of Republicans said Democrats were unpatriotic and about half of both Democrats and Republicans said the other group is immoral.

In the wake of a contested election, it’s hard to believe either party will accomplish anything in the next few months, let alone in the next four years. Hopefully, we can overcome our differences for the good of the country.

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