As a nation, we are as divided today as we have been in our 245-year history, according to a poll by Siena College Research Institute, but we still share many of the core values instilled by the Founding Fathers.
“Are we divided? Yes. Do we share core values? Absolutely. Are we proud to be Americans? For the most part. Do we think our great experiment will weather this storm? We’re somewhat hopeful, but concerned,” said SCRI’s Director, Don Levy.
The poll focused on the 51 percent who voted for President Joe Biden in 2020 and the 47 percent who voted for the incumbent, Donald Trump. Thirty-one percent think the election was stolen while 56 percent think it was not. Half think much of the mainstream media is fake news while 36 percent do not and 25 percent think the election was stolen and mainstream media is fake news.
On current issues:
By a 61 to 39 percent margin, voters support a federal ban on assault weapons
By a 63 to 37 percent margin, voters support providing a path to citizenship, or amnesty, for illegal aliens and other undocumented immigrants.
43 percent think abortion should be legal in most cases while 36 percent believe in most cases abortion should be illegal.
84 percent of all Americans support passing federal legislation that would both protect voting rights and make it easier to vote.
68 percent of those that think the election was stolen and that the media is fake news.
Using a technique called cluster analysis Levy said 35 percent of the respondents were “left-of-center” in that they support voting rights, abortion, a ban on assault weapons, a path to citizenship, do not think the 2020 election was stolen and do not think mainstream media is fake news. And 34 percent were “right-of-center “in that they hold the opposite view on virtually all those issues with the notable exception that they do not oppose an expansion of voting rights,” he said.
“The remaining 31 percent, we identify as centrists as they tend to hold positions as a whole between the other two groups although with the exception of their appraisal of the media, they lean more to the left on these issues than to the right,” he said.
Members of the left and right-of-center groups vote at a rate of 83 to 84 percent while centrists vote at a lower rate, 68 percent. The centrist group voted at a lower rate but did vote for Biden over Trump by 62-35 percent.
“These numbers appear to tell the same now familiar story of a divided nation that disagrees on issues and can be readily assigned to one ‘team’ or another with a less politically engaged group of citizens voters left in the middle,” Levy said.
SCRI asked respondents to consider 34 statements and asked to rate how important the statements are to how they live their lives. A rating of “0” means the respondent disagrees completely, “5” means sometimes yes and sometimes no and “10” means the respondent wholeheartedly lives in accordance with the statement.
All people are equal, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, physical appearance, or any other personal characteristics.
Not everyone starts off with the same set of tools or skills, sometimes we need to level the playing field by giving some people a head start.
No one, not even the government, should be able to restrict another’s pursuit of happiness.
Everyone can speak their mind in public regardless of the viewpoint without fear of punishment.
Advances in areas like health, technology, business or personal development, rely on the careful application of science.
It is important to achieve something specific and measurable each and every day.
Using factor analysis to consider all answers to all 34 statements, SCRI identified three major value areas: “equality,” “liberty” and “progress.”
The poll found the scores universally high and consistent across groups. While, Biden voters or members of the left-of-center cluster tend to score slightly higher than others on “equality” and Trump voters, right-of-center cluster members, tend to score slightly higher on “liberty,” the differences are small, and of degree rather than substance.
“One might argue that these values, whether we are talking about perceiving others as equal, being of service to others, saying that Americans should be self-reliant, endorsing free and varied speech, believing that no one is above the law, etc. mean different things to different people,” Levy said. “However, we choose to highlight that beneath the current partisan divides, as real as they are, we find an underlying base of not just support for traditional American values, but more importantly, an assertion that those values guide us in our thoughts and actions on a daily basis.”
In the end
SCRI conducted extensive open-ended interviews with additional respondents and found that by and large they are “proud to be an American.”
“America, they told us, while not perfect, is the country, the idea that everyone wants to be part of. Some described Americans as kind, compassionate and generous,” Levy said. “But others focused on what they see as a lack of understanding among us driven by siloed hate speech and a litany of prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination.”
While many told pollsters the country is “held together by the Constitution, Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, at the same time they cited partisanship and the continuing debate over the outcome of the 2020 election as pulling the country apart.
In addition to partisan politics, race and systemic racism came up as current issues that respondents say are breaking us apart.
“Rounding out the list of factors that divide us, interviewees talked about the media and social media — ripping us to shreds, class and the myopic quest for personal enrichment, disagreements on social policies including immigration, healthcare, gun control and abortion and to some, most importantly, what they describe as ignorance among many Americans,” Levy said. “What they seem to mean by ignorance, is a failure to entertain multiple perspectives and to curate edited information prior to adopting a position that all too often becomes inflexibly held.”
Several respondents spoke of being afraid to express an opinion that deviates from the orthodoxy of either the left or the right.
“There’s no middle. It’s basically if you believe in conservative ideas and if you’re conservative and you believe some progressive ideas, your own party or your own people will bash you because you express those feelings,” Levy said. “The same from the left side, if you express some conservative ideologies, you want to be in the middle, we bash you. So, it’s just that people have to choose to be all the way to the right or all the way to the left. That’s the issue.”
Based on the poll, SCRI formulated some suggestions including repairing the separation of powers, pass legislation that protects every American’s right to vote, consider term limits for members of Congress and enact campaign finance reform.
Still, by and large, Levy said, the interviewees are “proud Americans.”
“The American Values Study is a starting point for a robust national conversation that must end with action,” said Chris Gibson, Siena President and a former U.S. representative in Congress. “We need reform now to restore faith in our institutions and democracy itself. Legislators need to stop opposing any collaboration with the party-opposite and empower Congress to restore the balance of the separation of powers. We need to do the hard legislative work to restore Americans’ faith in the relationship between the people and our government, and as envisioned by the Founders, to encourage all citizens to do their patriotic duty to engage in the process of self-governance.”
The national poll was conducted online by questioning 6,077 Americans.