Election 2016: More polarized than ever


This won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but new poll results from Pew Research and other sources show that the American electorate is further apart than anytime in the last 25 years.

Pew did its usual comprehensive job, conducting more than 8,000 interviews and asking Americans about their political views. While the results are unsurprising, they also offer a peek into how the electorate has changed — and is changing still.

Both parties have been reshaped by demographic changes — “an aging population, growing racial and ethnic diversity, and rising levels of education,” Pew says. The Democratic Party is less white, less religious, and better educated than the country as a whole, and changing at a faster pace than the country. The Republican Party is older, less diverse, less educated, and more religious and is slower to change those characteristics even as the country does.

Yet despite all of these changes, party identification is roughly the same as it was four years ago. These totals include the party “leanings” of those who self-identify as independent.

The overall balance of party identification has changed little in recent years. This year, 48% of registered voters identify as Democrats or say they lean toward the Democratic Party, compared with 44% who identify as Republican or lean toward the Republican Party. That is identical to the balance of leaned party identification in 2012.

Here are some of the more salient points of the research, from Pew’s summary:

  • Fully 58 percent of Republican voters are 50 and older; those under 50 has declined to 41 percent.
  • 48 percent of Democratic voters are 50 and older, while 51 percent are under 50.
  • Whites make up 57 percent of all Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters, down significantly from 76 percent in 1992.
  • 86 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters are white, compared with 93 percent in 1992.
  • Republicans gained ground with white voters with no college education. Democrats gained ground with all voters with college education.

Even though Democrats have made gains in growing demographic groups, Republicans have offset that by boosting the party’s standing among older voters, men, and people with less education. “This has been especially apparent during Barack Obama’s presidency. … White voters age 65 and older are now 13 points more likely to identify as Republican or lean Republican than they were eight years ago.”

Remember that when people claim it has nothing to do with race.

While voters 65 and older have moved increasingly toward the GOP (51 percent to 42 percent), young voters (59 percent) remain Democratic in their partisan affiliation.

So there’s further alienation between parties, and it’s not just how we vote. It’s also where we live and whom we marry.

FiveThirtyEight.com compiled research on couples in 30 states that track party affiliation. To compare apples with apples, they included only male-female couples whose ages were within 15 years of each other.

In those results, 55 percent of married couples are Democratic-only or Republican-only. Only 30 percent of those couple were mismatched pairs, whether that’s party-party or party-independent. The research also showed that older couples tended to be more tied to the same party. That makes sense, as there is a higher number of self-described independents among younger voters.

There’s always been an urban-rural divide between the two political parties. This year, that divide seems to be sharper than ever.

Research from a real estate industry group shows that the accepted wisdom of “blue downtown-red suburb” and “blue city-red rural” is as true as it always was.

Home ownership is higher in more Republican areas, while more Democrats are renters. “Liberals like cities. Conservatives like the country. Liberals want ethnically diverse neighborhoods. Conservatives want neighbors who share the same religious faith,” according to the research by Redfin, which studies real estate trends, also using data from Pew Research.

In 2014, Pew asked people what they would look for in a community if they were planning to move. Three-quarters of conservatives wanted a neighborhood where “the houses are larger and farther apart, but schools, stores, and restaurants are several miles away.” Liberals in similar numbers preferred smaller living spaces within walking distance of schools and shops, Pew found.

Some other points from the Redfin research:

  • Americans have long clustered themselves by incomes, race, education either by choice or circumstance. But rising ideological uniformity is a newer phenomenon that’s contributing to America’s growing political polarization.
  • The homeownership divide is making things worse by feeding the nation’s wealth gap, which increasingly is breaking down by race. Whites on average have twice the income of blacks and Hispanics but six times the wealth, according to Urban Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank. Uneven access to homeownership is one reason, and it’s a contributor to voter anger and frustration.
  • Republicans are the biggest beneficiaries of U.S. housing policy. High rates of homeownership and bigger houses allow them to reap the biggest benefits from mortgage-interest tax deductions and government-supported home loan progams. It’s surprising, then, that Republicans are leading the charge to scale back that support and do away with consumer protections established after the 2008 housing collapse.

What does all of this mean for the November election? Who knows? But don’t expect to learn anything from the media. The public doesn’t trust that information anyway. According to a new poll from Gallup, only 32 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in the media. That’s declined from 53 percent in 1997.

Make sure you vote in November. Please.

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