America needs unity, especially today. Elections are the most polarizing events in society, and this one is especially divisive. Our country has been embroiled in political disagreement for a long time, but these disagreements have taken an ugly turn since the last election. Particularly in the past few months, partisan divides over the pandemic and racial justice have led to a rise in polarization.
One of the most important lessons I learned as an undergraduate was how easy it can be to present statistics in a way that supports your claim when one could just as easily use the very same statistics to support an opposite claim. For example, according to a college dating violence and abuse poll, 43% of women and 28% of men have experienced dating abuse. There are many ways to present these numbers. These are the first six that popped into my head:
- Nearly half of college women experience dating abuse
- Nearly a third of all college men have experienced dating abuse
- College women experience dating abuse at significantly higher rates than college men
- College men experience almost as much dating abuse as college women
- Many college students experience dating abuse
- Most college students do not experience dating abuse
Each of these sentences paints a unique picture: (1) emphasizes the rates among women, (2) focuses on men, (3) compares men and women to show that women are at a higher risk, (4) also compares men and women, but instead emphasizes that men too experience dating abuse at high rates, (5) highlights the prevalence of dating abuse on college campuses, and (6) does the exact opposite. Importantly, these are all technically correct. Although people can argue about the ethicality of presenting some of them (e.g. no. 6), there is no one “right way” to talk about these statistics.
We are all aware of the ways in which people on the left and on the right are different. Polling organizations come out with new reports every few weeks on how Democrats and Republicans disagree. In academia, social scientists frequently research ideological and partisan differences. You can read about how they hold different values and beliefs, how they consume different media, and even how they have different personalities.
In this post, I consciously and unabashedly flip the script. I intentionally cherry-pick data to support the claim that people across the political spectrum are not that different. I discuss some of the same statistics others have used to emphasize our differences but present them in a different light, showing how they can underscore our similarities and bring us together. Since my audience (almost certainly) leans liberal, and as a liberal myself, I gravitated more toward examples of how conservatives hold liberal views, rather than highlighting how liberals have conservative views (although I include examples of that direction as well).
There is no one correct way to interpret statistics–it is a question of what is useful. And right now, what our country needs is a glimpse at how we really are not as divided as we think.
Nearly a third of Republicans say the US has not controlled the outbreak as much as it should have, and support mandating masks and social distancing, even if it hurts the economy in the short term. Furthermore, close to half of Republicans see COVID-19 as a major health threat and are worried they or their family members will get sick. Overall, Democrats and Republicans agree that COVID-19 is a major threat to our economy and that restricting international travel is necessary to address the outbreak. Most Democrats and Republicans support a 2 trillion-dollar stimulus package, think masks are effective, plan on getting vaccinated, trust the FDA to make sure it is safe and effective, and trust the CDC to provide scientific guidelines.
Although Democrats are generally more in favor of government regulation to curb climate change, 1 in 5 Democrats think that the private marketplace will ensure that businesses and consumers rely more on renewable energy sources, even without government regulations. As for Republicans, over a third think global climate change is affecting their local community, and that the government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change, protect air and water quality, and care for animals and their habitats. Furthermore, nearly half of Republicans support a two trillion-dollar plan to increase the use of renewable energy and build energy-efficient infrastructure, think stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost, and say that developing alternative energy sources is an important priority. In general, most Democrats and Republicans support planting a trillion trees to absorb carbon emission, providing tax credits to businesses for developing carbon capture/storage, restricting power plant carbon emissions, taxing corporations based on their carbon emissions, and having stricter fuel-efficiency standards for cars.
Most Democrats and Republicans think the economy is not doing well, that corporations have too much power and do not understand the challenges faced by members of the public, and that all Americans should have a minimum income. They also overwhelmingly agree that American involvement in the global economy is a good thing.
Healthcare, Childcare, and Education
Nearly half of Republicans support a public health insurance option, and nearly a third support creating a “Medicare for all” plan. Most Democrats and Republicans think healthcare affordability is a major issue, and support guaranteeing all Americans access to affordable childcare. Finally, although they generally have less favorable views of higher education, a whopping one-third of Republicans support making public colleges tuition-free.
Homosexuality, Abortion, and Religion
While Democrats are typically considered the party that supports LGBT rights, 1 in 5 Democrats thinks homosexuality should NOT be accepted by society. However, most Democrats and Republicans favor nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBTQ people. And while Republicans tend to oppose abortion, less than a quarter say abortion should be illegal in all cases. Finally, most Democrats and Republicans think it is NOT necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values.
Crime, Race, and Policing
Nearly half of Democrats think crime is a critical issue in America, while more than half of liberals and conservatives are satisfied with their local police departments. Roughly a third of conservatives think the police are more likely to use excessive force against Black vs. White people, that White people benefit from advantages in society that Black people do not have, and that the country needs to continue making changes to give Blacks equal rights with Whites. Most liberals and conservatives agree that the anger that sparked the recent protests is justified and a cause for concern, and that racial discrimination is a problem in the US. One in four conservatives thinks race relations have gotten worse since President Trump was elected. Finally, only a small percentage of Democrats and Republicans say that long term growth in racial and ethnic diversity in the US is a bad thing.
Just 5% of both Democrats and Republicans say that immigration is the most important issue to them in this election, and nearly half of Republicans say that immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents, and that America’s openness to people from all over the world is essential to who we are as a nation.
One in five Republicans say it is more important to control gun ownership than protect the right of Americans to own guns, and one in three say gun laws should be MORE strict than they are today. On the other hand, only half of Democrats think more guns would lead to more crime, and one in four support concealed carry in more places.
Finally, on the issue of polarization, most Democrats and Republicans say they are concerned about divisions between them, are worried that polarization will continue to worsen, and are frustrated by the uncivil and rude behavior of politicians.
Of course, there are many issues on which Democrats and Republicans wholeheartedly and unequivocally agree—for example, that we should not cut social security, that we should support Israel, and that the death penalty is morally permissible, while adultery and polygamy are not. This report details 150 key policy positions that people in both parties agree on. But in this post, I tried to choose topics that most people see as highly divisive, to show that even with these issues, it is possible to find common ground.
So, whether you voted early or are heading out to the polls today, try to keep in mind that we are not that different. Most of us care deeply about this country and are trying to make it better, one election at a time.
Peer edited by Ricardo Rivera-Soto