There are a few trends that historians will likely point to in their efforts to explain the political moment. One is that the far-right figured out how to organize on social media more effectively than other groups and how to make small protests seem like a large outcry. Another is that a flood of information allowed people to cherry-pick the information that suited their tastes. Yet another is how that same strategy applies to opinions: People can sign up just for the TV networks or social media accounts that they like.
All of those things, though, are offshoots of the most important trend: rampant partisanship.
New research from PRRI reinforces one aspect of the partisan divide that lies at the heart of many of the decisions and fights on Capitol Hill and in American culture.
According to the poll, about 23 percent of Americans see the policies of the Republican Party as moving the country in the right direction, compared to 29 percent who say the same of President Trump and 39 percent who say that of the Democratic Party. But nearly half of the country — 46 percent — says that Trump’s policies pose a serious threat to the country. Thirty percent say the same of Republican policies, and 27 percent say the same of the Democrats’ policies.
When we split this up by party, though, the divide grows much wider.
Among Republicans, two-thirds see Trump’s policies as moving the country in the right direction. (Slightly fewer said the same of their own party, which is why the percentage among all Americans is lower for the party than the president.) More than half of Republicans see the Democrats’ policies as posing a threat to the country.
More than half of Democrats say the same about Republican policies. Unsurprisingly, they also overwhelmingly see Trump’s policies as a threat to the country, with three-quarters of Democrats saying that.
A bit more than half of the country identified as Democratic or Republican in the PRRI poll, with the rest identifying as independents. So at least a quarter of the country — half of the half that is partisan — sees the other party’s policies as a serious threat to the nation.
Trump embodies much of the polarization, as is probably obvious from the graphs above. As with many other national polls, more people disapprove of Trump than approve, with more than 4 in 10 Americans disapproving of him strongly.
That we predicate that graph on “as with many other polls” suggests that this split is not new, which, of course, it isn’t. So PRRI asked a related question: Might your opinion of Trump change? Among those who approve of Trump, more said that their opinion of him might change than said it wouldn’t. (Fifty-eight percent of those who approve said that Trump might do something to lose their approval, about 24 percent of all respondents.) Six in 10 of those who disapprove say that their minds won’t change.
Overall, those who don’t see their opinions changing make up about 48 percent of the country; those who might change their minds make up about 43 percent.
The challenge for members of Congress is simple. Members of their party — people who vote in party primaries — support their party and broadly revile the other side’s ideas. If you’re Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and you know that Republicans trust the president’s positions more than yours and see Democrats as a threat to the country, how are you going to navigate policymaking?
The way it’s being navigated. The way it’s been increasingly navigated in this polarized era.