Most Americans believe political hostility and divisiveness between ordinary Americans is a serious problem

New Public Agenda/USA Today/Ipsos poll explores the extent of political divisiveness and hostility in the U.S. today

The author(s)

  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Neil Lloyd Senior Research Analyst, Public Affairs
  • James Diamond Senior Research Manager, Public Affairs
  • Jocelyn Duran Account Manager, US, Public Affairs
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Washington, DC, December 13, 2021– A new Public Agenda/USA Today/Ipsos Hidden Common Ground survey finds that most Americans believe political hostility and divisiveness is a serious problem in the U.S. About two thirds of Americans think more accurate, trustworthy sources of news would be most effective in bringing the country together.

Please visit www.publicagenda.org to read the full report and www.usatoday.com to read the full article.

Detailed Findings

1. Almost three-fourths (73%) of Americans believe it would be a good thing if special interests had less political power and ordinary people had greater influence over decisions that affect their lives and communities. However, only 31% believe this is likely to happen in the next ten years.

  • Seventy-two percent also believe it would be a good thing if the American people rejected political hostility and divisiveness and focused more on their common ground.
    • Thirty-nine percent think this is likely to happen in the next ten years, with independents (27%) being most doubtful.
  • Only 17% of Americans believe that Democratic and Republican states splitting off into two separate countries would be a good thing.
    • One-quarter of Republicans (26%) believe this is likely to happen in the next ten years, but only 17% of Democrats, 19% of independents, and 13% of apolitical Americans agree.
  • Americans are split on whether having a strong, charismatic leader in power who is willing to do whatever it takes to maintain control and run the country in the way they think is best would be a good or bad thing; 41% say good, 43% say bad.
    • However, over two-thirds of Republicans (68%) and over half of Democrats (58%) believe this is likely to happen in the next ten years.

2. Eight out of ten Americans believe political hostility and divisiveness in the news media (81%), between politicians (81%), between ordinary Americans (81%), and on social media (80%) is a serious problem.

  • Two-thirds of Americans believe political divisiveness has made dealing with the economic impacts (68%) and health risks (67%) of the COVID-19 pandemic a lot or somewhat more difficult.
    • These proportions are lower than those seen in February 2021 when 76% of Americans believed political divisiveness made dealing with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic difficult, and 75% thought the same about dealing with the health risks of the pandemic.
  • About a third (32%) say it has made it difficult to get along with friends or family.
  • Three in ten (30%) are most worried about the fact that Americans don’t know how to talk about their disagreements and conflicts in constructive ways, while one in ten (11%) are more worried about the fact that Americans have too many fundamental disagreements and conflicting values. Half (50%) worry about both equally.

3. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans believe creating more accurate, trustworthy, accessible sources of news and information would help bring the country together, as would reducing the influence of money in politics and the power of special interests (62%).

  • Among those who believe more accurate, trustworthy news would help, 81% believe news that focuses as much on solutions as on problems would most help bring the country together.
    • Seventy-nine percent believe news that is as nonpartisan as possible would also help bring the country together.
  • Creating a popular TV comedy that portrays people with different political views trying to get along (31%) or each state creating its own rules for voting and elections (20%) are believed to be least effective at bringing the country together.
  • Over half (56%) of Americans believe young people doing a year of national service would help bring the country together, and of those, 56% believe the year of service should be encouraged, but not required, by providing college credits or forgiving student loans for those who participate.
  • Finally, 49% of Americans believe that a school curriculum that emphasizes both America’s shortcomings and achievements would do the most to bring the country together, rather than a curriculum which only emphasizes America’s achievements (18%) or shortcomings (15%).

4. Seven out of ten (71%) Americans say they have often or sometimes avoided talking about politics with someone whose political views are opposed to their own in the last twelve months.

  • About two-thirds (67%) say they have often or sometimes thought someone else was being too sensitive and defensive about politics, with Republicans (71%) being more likely to say this.
  • In the last twelve months, one-quarter (25%) of Americans say they have often or sometimes ended relationships with someone with differing political views.
  • In fact, 73% of Americans agree that it is a good thing that Americans have many different political viewpoints, including some that they disagree with, and 71% agree that they can learn something by talking to people whose political views are opposed to their own.
    • Despite this, 67% of Democrats say they are sick and tired of Republicans, and 70% of Republicans say they are sick and tired of Democrats.

5. Overall, less than half of Americans say that the political views of their close family members (46%) and their friends (41%) are pretty similar to their own, while less than a quarter say the same about the people in their community (21%) or about their coworkers (24%).

  • Democrats (53%) and Republicans (57%) are most likely to have close family members with political views that are similar to theirs, while 36% of independents and 26% of apolitical Americans say the same.
  • Independents and apolitical Americans are more likely to say they have a mix of friends with similar and different political views to their own (53% and 42%, respectively), while just over a third of Democrats (35%) and Republicans (38%) have friends with mixed political views.
  • Around half of Americans report that the people who live in their community (49%) and those they work with (48%) have a mix of political views similar and different to their own.

6. Respondents were asked about their feelings towards Democratic politicians and voters, and Republican politicians and voters, at two different points in the survey.

  • In the first instance, Americans were most favorable towards Democratic voters (53%) and least favorably towards Republican politicians (33%).
  • In fact, when asked how many ordinary people who identified as Democrats they could see themselves having a constructive conversation with, 38% said they could with a lot or just about all of them. Meanwhile, only 28% said the same about ordinary people who identify as Republicans.
  • After seeing a series of questions, respondents were asked about their feelings towards Republican and Democratic politicians and voters a second time to see if seeing questions would change their perception of voters and politicians, but their responses were virtually unchanged.

7. Three-quarters (73%) of Americans say they use social media often or sometimes, and of those, 76% say they have felt fed up with how people talk about politics on social media at least sometimesSEVEN.

  • Half (53%) of social media users have liked, posted, or shared something that emphasizes Americans’ common ground, but only about two in five (38%) have liked, posted, or shared something by someone who they usually disagree with about politics.

Methodology

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between September 20-28, 2021. For this survey, a sample of 2,345 adults age 18+ from the continental U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii was interviewed online in English. The sample includes 774 Democrats, 600 Republicans, 534 independents, and 437 apolitical Americans.

The sample for this study was randomly drawn from Ipsos’ online panel (see link for more info on “Access Panels and Recruitment”), partner online panel sources, and “river” sampling (see link for more info on the Ipsos “Ampario Overview” sample method) and does not rely on a population frame in the traditional sense. Ipsos uses fixed sample targets, unique to each study, in drawing a sample. After a sample has been obtained from the Ipsos panel, Ipsos calibrates respondent characteristics to be representative of the U.S. Population using standard procedures such as raking-ratio adjustments. The source of these population targets is U.S. Census 2018 American Community Survey data. The sample drawn for this study reflects fixed sample targets on demographics. Posthoc weights were made to the population characteristics on gender, age, race/ethnicity, region, and education.

Statistical margins of error are not applicable to online non-probability polls. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error and measurement error. Where figures do not sum to 100, this is due to the effects of rounding. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points for all respondents. Ipsos calculates a design effect (DEFF) for each study based on the variation of the weights, following the formula of Kish (1965). This study had a credibility interval adjusted for design effect of the following (n=2,345, DEFF=1.5, adjusted Confidence Interval=+/-3.8 percentage points).

The poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points for Democrats, plus or minus 4.6 percentage points for Republicans, plus or minus 4.8 percentage points for independents, and plus or minus 5.3 percentage points for apolitical individuals.

The survey is trended with two surveys, the first one was conducted February 23-26, 2021 and the second survey was conducted October 14-21, 2019, both for Public Agenda by Ipsos. The February 2021 survey was conducted based on a nationally representative probability sample of adults age 18 or older (n=1,283) and the October 2019 survey was based on a nationally representative probability sample of adults age 18 or older (n=1,548). Further information about the February 2021 survey can be found here and the October 2019 survey can be found here.

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Chris Jackson
Senior Vice President, U.S.
Public Affairs
+1 202 420-2025
[email protected]

Kate Silverstein
Media Relations Specialist, U.S.
Public Affairs
+1 718 755-8829
[email protected]

About Ipsos

Ipsos is the world’s third largest market research company, present in 90 markets and employing more than 18,000 people.

Our passionately curious research professionals, analysts and scientists have built unique multi-specialist capabilities that provide true understanding and powerful insights into the actions, opinions and motivations of citizens, consumers, patients, customers or employees. We serve more than 5000 clients across the world with 75 business solutions.

Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos is listed on the Euronext Paris since July 1st, 1999. The company is part of the SBF 120 and the Mid-60 index and is eligible for the Deferred Settlement Service (SRD).

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The author(s)

  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Neil Lloyd Senior Research Analyst, Public Affairs
  • James Diamond Senior Research Manager, Public Affairs
  • Jocelyn Duran Account Manager, US, Public Affairs

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