Americans are more focused on what we have in common, new research finds

Americans are more focused on what we have in common, new research finds
© iStock

Everyone is talking about America being split in two. Liberals versus conservatives. Men versus women. Black versus white. Coasts versus heartland.

What if we told you this was fundamentally wrong?

ADVERTISEMENT

In research released recently by More in Common, a non-profit organization devoted to bridging political divides, we found that Americans actually make up seven distinct groups. These range from the far-left Progressive Activists to the far-right Traditional and Devoted Conservatives. Although it may not seem like it when we check social media or watch the news, these more extreme groups — which we call the wings — comprise only a third of the U.S. population.

The rest of the country — 67 percent of Americans — makes up what we call the exhausted majority. These men and women are exhausted by the fighting between far-left and far-right groups. They feel unheard and ignored by their political leaders, and are far more eager for compromise than their more extreme counterparts.

Members of the exhausted majority are also about twice as likely as wings to say that both parties at least partly to blame for today's division (53 vs. 28 percent).

Crucially, these groups are not defined by their demographic traits — i.e. race, age, gender, or region — but by a set of values and world views we term “core beliefs.” These include, for instance, people’s degree of pride in their American identity, their beliefs on how children should be raised, and their views on personal responsibility.

These beliefs often predict political views better than the standard demographics used in traditional surveys. This is true for issues ranging from approval of President TrumpDonald John TrumpPaul Ryan defends Navy admiral after Trump's criticism Trump discussing visit overseas to troops following criticism: report Retired Army General: Trump is ‘acting like an 8th grader’ in attacking ex-Navy SEAL who led bin Laden operation MORE to views on police brutality and sexual harassment.

We also learned that a remarkable three quarters of Americans — including members of both the wings and the exhausted majority — do not feel that our political differences are so great that we cannot find common ground. In fact, Americans across the political spectrum largely agree on the seriousness of issues such as racism, sexism, and sexual harassment.

However, most Americans also claim that our current cultural norms make them uncomfortable discussing these important issues. These dynamics undermine the kinds of conversations that will be necessary to move our country forward.

Overall, this research has several important implications.

First, it shows that, in contrast to the typical us-versus-them narrative widely seen on news shows and in social media, a majority of Americans hold mixed political views. As a result, most Americans are hungry for voices that soothe division instead of inflaming it.

Second, it suggests that our path forward must build on what we have in common. While Americans disagree on many issues, there is still a chance to regain the American story that build on values shared by all, including hard work, tolerance, fairness, and respect.

Finally, it means that, no matter who wins the midterm elections on Nov.6, the most important day will be Nov.7 when we ask ourselves: How will we move forward as a country? We will need to have the strength and humility to see each other’s humanity rather than as bitter enemies in an all-out war.

Stephen Hawkins is a research director and senior associate at More in Common USA. Dr. Daniel Yudkin is a senior associate at More in Common USA.