clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A new study shows partisanship is at its highest in 25 years


Perhaps unsurprisingly — as a high-profile partisan debate over gun control measures has gripped Congress — a new study finds that polarization among individuals is at its highest in 25 years.

The Pew Research Center found that partisans’ views of the other party — and of their own — are less than idyllic in a new study released on Wednesday.

According to the study, for the first time since 1992, "majorities in both parties express not just unfavorable but very unfavorable views of the other party." Such negative views have led to feelings of fear and anger and more than a few unkind feelings toward the other party.

How partisans describe each other

One of the most interesting parts of the study focuses on the words that Democrats and Republicans use to describe one another. 70 percent of Democrats described Republicans as "closed-minded." According to the study, as many as 67 percent of Democrats said that those in their party were more open-minded than other Americans. Following closed-minded, fewer Democrats found Republicans to be dishonest (42 percent), immoral (35 percent), and unintelligent (33 percent).

Closed-mindedness also topped the list for Republican descriptors of Democrats at 52 percent, followed by immoral (47 percent), lazy (46 percent), and dishonest (45 percent). According to the study, most Republicans (59 percent) believe that they are more hardworking than their Democratic counterparts.

A similar number of Republicans (65 percent) and Democrats (63 percent) said that when talking to someone of the other party, they find that they have less in common than they originally thought.

However, this is not necessarily having an impact on the relationships partisans have with each other. Only about 31 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of Republicans say it would be harder to get along with a new neighbor if they found out they were of the other party.

How Republicans think of their own party

When it comes to the Republican party, their internal struggles far outweigh those of the Democrats. According to the study, Republicans are more likely to say that they feel frustration with their party more than enthusiasm or pride. Over a third of conservative participants said their own party makes them frustrated, compared to only 13 percent of Democrats. Seven percent of Republicans also said their party makes them afraid and/or angry.

Very few on either side said the other party makes them feel hopeful, enthusiastic, or proud.

But what about people who aren’t partisan?

For those who don’t identify with either party, there is the question of what it would take to push them toward one in particular.

"For independents who lean to the Republican and Democratic parties, the main motivation for leaning to their party is the harm that the opposing party’s policies cause the country," the study says.

Fifty-five percent of independents who lean conservative and 51 who lean liberal said the other party’s policies are the driving force for them. The next most popular reason, which doesn’t come nearly as close, is the belief that their own party’s policies are good for the party (30 percent who lean Republican compared to 34 percent who lean Democrat).

Those who lean Republican but are independent said their main reason for not fully identifying with the Republican party is frustration with party leadership (52 percent). Forty percent say it’s because they disagree with the party on important issues.

Disagreeing with the party on issues is the biggest reason for those who lean Democrat but do not affiliate, but to a lesser degree at 33 percent. Frustration with party leadership is the second-biggest reason at 28 percent.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.