WASHINGTON, D.C. Dec. 17, 2019 – Partisanship continues to be the dividing line in the American public’s political attitudes, far surpassing differences by age, race and ethnicity, gender, educational attainment, religious affiliation or other factors, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Yet there are substantial divisions within both parties on fundamental political values, views of current issues and the severity of the problems facing the nation today.
The survey finds the issues that divide the partisan coalitions are different for Republicans than for Democrats. Age differences are generally wider among Republicans than Democrats – particularly in opinions about foreign policy, immigration and homosexuality – while educational attainment is a bigger divider among Democrats.
Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents also are divided by race, with black Democrats much more likely than white Democrats to associate belief in God with morality and less likely to say that same-sex marriage has been good for society. Racial differences in attitudes are far less consequential for Republicans and Republican leaners, who are predominantly non-Hispanic white.
Ideological differences are also evident in both parties. Conservative Republicans, who make up a majority of all Republicans, are nearly 30 percentage points less likely than GOP moderates and liberals to say that legalizing same-sex marriage has been good for society. And among Democrats and Democratic leaners, there are notable differences between liberals (who make up around half of all Democrats) and the party’s conservatives and moderates on religion, same-sex marriage, racial discrimination and foreign policy.
Yet it remains the case that the differences between the two parties are starker than those within the parties. Across 30 political values – encompassing attitudes about guns, race, immigration, foreign policy and other realms – the average partisan gap is 39 percentage points.
The gaps are substantially wider on some political values, especially those related to guns and race, than others. For two political values on whether guns should be generally more or less available (not specific gun policies), the average difference is 57 points. An overwhelming share of Democrats and Democratic leaners (86%) say the nation’s gun laws should be stricter than they are today; just 31% of Republicans and Republican leaners say the same.
The partisan differences on political values related to race are nearly as wide (55 points). For example, Democrats are seven times as likely as Republicans to say white people benefit “a great deal” from societal advantages that black people do not have (49% vs. 7%).
Across all 30 political values, the differences between Republicans and Democrats dwarf all other differences by demographics or other factors. The 39-point average gap is more than twice the difference between white and nonwhite adults (17 percentage points); people who regularly attend religious services and those who do not (14 points); college graduates and those who have not completed college (10 points); younger and older adults (also 10 points); and men and women (6 points).
The size of the partisan divide on political values has not changed much in recent years. But since 1994, the differences between parties on these measures has more than doubled, while the size of other gaps has been largely unchanged.
The current survey, conducted Sept. 3-15 among 9,895 U.S. adults, is the first time Pew Research Center’s political values survey has been conducted on the online American Trends Panel; previous values surveys have been conducted by telephone. (For more, see “Trends are a cornerstone of public opinion research. How do we maintain them when there’s a shift in survey mode?”)
Among the other key findings:
The GOP’s age gap: Across multiple measures, Republicans who are under age 50 have different views from those 50 and older. Age divides among Democrats are much more modest. A majority of younger Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (65%) say peace is best ensured with good diplomacy. Among older Republicans and Republican leaners, 42% express this view, while a majority (57%) says peace is best ensured through military strength.
Racial, educational divisions among Democrats: Black Democrats have long been more likely than white Democrats to describe themselves as Christian and to attend religious services more frequently. These differences are reflected in sharp divides between black and white Democrats and Democratic leaners in opinions related to faith and religion. White Democrats are nearly twice as likely as black Democrats to say that it is not necessary to believe in God in order for a person to be moral (89% vs. 44%). Across the 30 political values items, the differences between college graduates and adults who have not completed college are generally wider among Democrats than among Republicans.
Income divides within both parties, but on different issues: The most striking income difference among Republicans is over corporate profits. A 59% majority of Republicans and Republican leaners with family incomes of less than $50,000 say business corporations make too much profit. Fewer than half of Republicans with incomes of $50,000 or more (41%) say the same. Democrats, regardless of family income, hold similar attitudes about business profits and the government safety net. Yet higher-income Democrats express more positive views of government performance than do those with family incomes less than $50,000.
This report was made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which received support for the survey from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points for results based on the full sample.
ALSO SEE: Decoded blog post: Trends are a cornerstone of public opinion research. How do we maintain them when there’s a shift in survey mode?