Why can’t we all just get along? The reality of a polarized America

Abramowitz, Alan; Saunders, Kyle

According to Morris Fiorina, Americans are moderate, tolerant, and ambivalent in their political attitudes. This has always been true and it is, if anything, more true today than in the past. The culture war is almost entirely an elite phenomenon, driven by a small group of activists on the left and right who exert influence far out of proportion to their numbers. It is the elites and activists who are polarized, not the public. In this study we use data from the American National Election Studies and national exit polls to test five major claims made by Fiorina about the state of public opinion in the United States. This evidence indicates that while some of the claims of culture war proponents are overstated, there are deep divisions in America between Democrats and Republicans, between red state voters and blue state voters, and between religious voters and secular voters. These divisions are not confined to a small minority of elected officials and activists – they involve a large segment of the public and they are likely to increase in the future as a result of long-term trends affecting American society.