This Public Agenda/USA TODAY Hidden Common Ground survey, fielded in February 2021, finds a powerful consensus across political affiliations that the nation needs to move beyond the destructive divisiveness that plagues our politics. It also finds common ground on several approaches to overcoming divisiveness. Findings from this research update and expand on Public Agenda’s 2019 Hidden Common Ground report on divisiveness in American public life.

Key Findings:

  1. Americans are united across partisan lines in seeing divisiveness as a major problem and believe it has made dealing with the pandemic and other critical challenges more difficult. Yet most think there is more common ground among the public than is typically acknowledged, and many have worked across partisan lines in their communities. 
  2. Few Americans are optimistic that the country can overcome destructive political divisiveness in the coming years. Most, however, believe it is essential to try, particularly after the attack on the U.S. Capitol.  
  3. A majority of Americans think that divisiveness is driven more by leaders than by ordinary people. Few see any of the societal actors asked about in the survey—including social media companies and local and national politicians—as particularly constructive, suggesting a “constructiveness desert” in American public life.
  4. A plurality of Americans think that a path out of divisiveness will require the efforts of both leaders and the public, and that the concern is less about people having differences of opinion and more about learning how to disagree constructively.
  5. To address divisiveness, Americans across the political spectrum believe that our civic culture must change and that we need structural political and education reforms and a more equitable economy. But significantly fewer Republicans than Democrats, Independents or apolitical people recognize the impacts of racism, which may complicate addressing our nation’s challenges.