In polarized times, who do we politically despise?

In the song “National Brotherhood Week” Tom Lehrer rhapsodized, “It’s fun to eulogize those we despise.” “All of my folks hate all of your folks. It’s American as apple pie.”

A new, extensive Pew study on political polarization shows that reality is getting closer to that poetic license.

Polarization is increasing all around. But one finding is that now more Republicans see Democrats in very unfavorable terms and as a threat to the nation’s well-being.

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Look at the data from the past. In 1994, the year that the GOP took both Houses of Congress, Democrats and Republicans were close in the percentages that saw the other party very unfavorably.

In the middle of George W. Bush’s presidency, Democrats had greater dislike toward Republicans than vice-versa.

Partisans from both sides strongly dislike the other more than before, but now it’s Republicans that dislike Democrats more, with more believing the other party’s preferred policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”

Republicans’ unfavorable attitudes toward Democrats doubled between 2004 and 2014. And this figure includes both people who call themselves Republicans and those who don’t but who lean toward the GOP.

Who’s an independent varies over time. Now more folks who call themselves independents are Republican leaners than Democratic leaners, with many of those people who used to consider themselves Republicans.

Most independents are “leaners,” who vote pretty much like partisans.

That’s why it makes no sense to talk about independents as if they’re one group. As Pew explains:

[C]ombining these two dramatically different groups would be misleading; these are two groups that have little in common with each other, and far more in common with self-identified partisans.

Still, you can see that Republican leaners are now closer to Republicans when it comes to disliking the other side (with a 6 point gap between 46% and 40%) than the same groups of Democrats and their leaners (who are separated by a 12 point gap between 42% and 30%).

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Anyway, when you see certain partisans attributing everything they dislike to the other party, these underlying attitudes explain why. They really dislike their opponents and substantial numbers think they threaten the nation’s well-being.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.