This inaugural Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos Hidden Common Ground survey examines how Americans view divisiveness and partisan divides in public life and offers a number of solutions to build a more collaborative society, despite our social and political differences.
Overall, the research shows a good deal of cross-partisan agreement on the need to move beyond the divisiveness that Americans believe plagues our politics and public life. Encouragingly, there is common ground across party lines on some specific approaches to move beyond this friction. Based on a nationally representative survey of American adults, key findings include the following:
- Overwhelmingly, Americans say divisiveness and gridlock are big problems facing the nation. Almost a third report that divisiveness has affected them personally, citing depression, anxiety and sadness as examples of this. But Americans also believe that there is more common ground among the public than leaders and the media typically portray.
- Differences of opinion are less of a problem than not knowing how to discuss differences productively, most Americans say. For a plurality of Americans, both thoughtless, hurtful talk and a fear of speaking one’s mind are equally significant problems.
- Both Republicans and Democrats indicate that they could imagine finding common ground with many people of the opposite party. Divisions also exist within political parties: Republicans and Democrats see about a quarter of those in their own parties as so extreme they could not imagine finding common ground with them.
- A third of Republicans and a quarter of Democrats say they do not have a good way to understand the views of the opposing political party. Heavy consumption of certain news outlets is correlated with viewing more members of the other side as extreme.
- Most Americans think divisiveness is driven more from the top-down than the bottom-up. Journalism, national political leaders, and social media are the institutions that Americans think stand to gain from divisiveness, while respondents believe ordinary Americans stand to lose. None of the institutions or actors asked about were viewed as more constructive than destructive, suggesting a “constructiveness desert” in American public life.
- Americans across the political spectrum agree on several approaches to reducing divisiveness, including teaching conflict resolution, making it easier for third-party and independent candidates to run for office, and shifting more decisions from the federal to the local level.
- Most Americans across the political spectrum say it is important for the candidate they vote for to unify the country and reduce divisiveness. Almost 40 percent of Republicans and almost 50 percent of Democrats would be very or somewhat tempted to cross party lines to vote for a candidate who could unify the country.
Methodology in Brief
This report summarizes findings from a nationally representative survey of 1,548 adult Americans 18 years and older. The survey was fielded October 14th to 21st, 2019 by Ipsos using the probability-based web-enabled KnowledgePanel®. Respondents completed the survey in English or Spanish. The survey was weighted to match Census figures to ensure representativeness of the American people.
The research also draws from three demographically diverse focus groups that Public Agenda conducted in May and June 2019 in New Rochelle, New York; Jackson, Mississippi; and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Click here for the methodology and topline.