A recent Pew Research Poll came out showing that Americans are more divided by party and politics now that at any other time in recent history. To put not to fine a point on it, the study found that “92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican.”
Much, in despair, has been made of the poll. Pundits see us as hopelessly divided, and partisans of both parties have to wonder how people on the other side could be getting everything so wrong.
But before we get too carried away bemoaning American political misery, let’s consider another poll, published by Gallup this past January. It found that there’s been a surge of people (42%) who identify themselves as Independents, with those who identify as Democrats remaining relatively stable at 31%, and Republicans declining slightly from 28% in 2010 to 25% currently.
So wait, if only 25% of people identify as Republicans, then how is it that they hold a majority in the House of Representatives and still win elections? Because they vote. The Pew poll found that 78% of people who register as consistently conservative always vote and 58% who have mostly conservative views always vote. Those who expressed consistently liberal and mostly liberal views and always vote were lower, at 58% and 43% respectively. The worst voters were those who expressed mixed views: the Independents—only 39% of that group always votes. Full disclosure: I’d be considered an Independent, though I’m registered with the Working Families Party.
In other words, the only reason the Republican Party is relevant is because their base almost always votes and because liberal and independent Americans don’t. Sure, political polarization may have increased, but ultimately that’s only between the 55% of Americans who identify as either Republican or Democrat. What about the 42% who identify as Independents?
Ultimately, they support the Democratic agenda. That may sound outlandish, but again, look at the numbers: in poll after poll, over 80% of Americans support universal background checks on guns; 71% want to see a raise in the minimum wage; 66% want to leave the ACA (aka Obamacare) in place; 80-90% of Americans want campaign finance reform; and depending on how it’s phrased, vast majorities of Americans (70% +/- 5) want to see more revenue raised by either closing tax loopholes and/or raising taxes on the rich and large corporations.
Even if we take the average percentage of support for these policies down to 65%, consider the implications. If we assume 31% of the 65% are Democrats, then that means most of rest are Independents—especially given what we know about how politically polarized we are as a country. Simple math tells us that means that of the 42% of Americans who identify as Independents, at least 3 out of 4 support a Democratic agenda.
In other words, there’s real consensus on a lot of issues in American politics, even if there isn’t consensus between parties and their partisans. We’re told that we’re hopelessly divided, but that just isn’t true. What is true, is that the 25% of Americans that identify as Republicans have vastly different political beliefs than the rest of us. And their politicians are even more radical.
Consider the current position of the Republican Party on the following issues:
1) Taxes—don’t support closing loopholes on big business or the very rich. Romney campaigned on doing so, but when push comes to shove, Republicans block this kind of legislation every time.
2) Health Care—repeal the ACA, no replacement. Go back to the old system where people with pre-existing conditions couldn’t get care, with no competitive marketplace for buying insurance, allowing insurance companies to impose lifetime limits on coverage, and no limits on how much of a patient’s premiums had to actually be spent on providing care.
3) Student Loans—no relief for Americans with student loans, many of whom are paying interest rates of 8-10% on their debt. They recently blocked a bill that would’ve simply allowed borrowers to refinance at lower interest rates.
4) Minimum Wage—oppose raising the federal minimum wage. Have no plan for how to raise wages for ordinary Americans, other than to cut regulations and taxes on corporations—which we know doesn’t work.
5) Money in Politics—oppose campaign finance reform; essentially, Republicans believe that there shouldn’t be any limitations on how much money the rich and corporations should be able to use to influence elections. They believe that money is speech and corporations are people.
6) Gun Violence—no restrictions on guns, despite recent events like Sandy Hook and the fact that each year, tens of thousands of Americans lose their life at the point of a gun. Blocked universal background checks just a few months after Sandy Hook.
7) Voting—want to impose more restrictions on voting. Republican legislatures and governors in almost every state they control have, or have attempted, to pass legislation mandating voting ID, decreasing early voting or voting on weekends, and imposing other dubious restrictions on voting. For example, in some states where voting ID is required, a student ID is not sufficient, but a gun license is…
8) Infrastructure—Republicans don’t want to spend money building or repairing roads, bridges, or other public goods. In the last Paul Ryan budget, what little infrastructure spending we do allow for was drastically cut.
9) Poverty—Republicans have reduced money for food stamps and generally oppose any kind of welfare, despite the fact that most welfare spending goes to children, the elderly, and the disabled. Remember, in the research I did a few months ago, we found that just 2% of the federal budget goes to welfare for non-disabled adults who work less than full time; keep in mind, many of those people are students or single mothers.
10) Social Security and Medicare—Republicans want to cut these programs; see the Ryan budget.
11) Military Spending—despite the fact that we spend over $600 billion a year on defense, the Ryan budget actually INCREASES spending on the military.
12) Education—Republicans have, time and again, fought for lower wages and job security for teachers, questioned the work ethic and value of teachers, and made every attempt to privatize education so that public money spent on schools could be available for private profiteering.
13) Immigration Reform—Republicans in the House blocked immigration reform, despite the fact that the it was a bi-partisan package passed in the Senate. In fact, there are enough votes to pass the bill with Democrats and Republicans voting together, but Speaker Boehner refuses to bring it up for a vote because it would anger the Tea Party base of the Republican Party.
14) Compromise—Republicans don’t compromise. Remember the government shut down? That was because Obama and the Democrats wouldn’t repeal Obamacare, which was passed in both houses of Congress and declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. So the Republicans threw a hissy fit and shut down the government for almost a month.
15) Climate Change—most Republicans don’t believe in climate change, and the few that do aren’t willing to do anything about it. Republicans receive tremendous support from Big Oil and people like the Koch brothers, who actually have supported legislation to CHARGE people for having solar panels on their house. The Republican position on Climate Change and the environment is about as backwards as it gets.
Look, if you agree with Republicans on a majority of these issues, then I guess you should vote that way, but most Americans don’t—not just Democrats, but Independents as well.
Again, there’s a perception of political paralysis in the country that just isn’t true. Over 65% of us agree on most issues, and we could move forward if we simply just got out there and voted. We don’t even have to convince the other side that we’re right. We just have to vote.
So please, go register to vote—right now. Then, make a commitment to personally see to it that you get 3-5 other people to register and vote, and get one of them to make the same commitment I’m asking of you. If we all did that, we’d see action on these issues pretty quickly, and eventually, the Republican Party would have to drop their radical agenda and come back to the mainstream; that or face political annihilation.
But if we stay disengaged, if we don’t vote, if we feel hopeless, then we’re at the mercy of a very radical Republican Party and the big moneyed interests that control it, along with its Tea Party base. To be blunt, not voting is basically a vote for those same Republican policies I’ve just listed.
We aren’t hopelessly divided: it just seems that way because not enough of us vote.