Shared Core Values Unite Democrats and Republicans Amid Mutual Distrust

by Sophia Chen
political polarization

In the United States, both Democrats and Republicans share more common ground than they might realize, despite harboring deep mistrust for one another.

A recent survey, jointly conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago and the nonprofit organization Starts With Us, shed light on the prevailing sentiment. The study revealed that when it comes to fundamental principles such as fairness, compassion, and personal responsibility, around 90% of Democrats and Republicans agreed that these values were highly important. However, merely a third of respondents from either party believed that the opposing party shared these beliefs.

These survey results expose a glaring reality underlying the strong polarization gripping American politics. While most Americans agree on the foundational principles that underpin American democracy, they fail to recognize that their counterparts across the political aisle also hold these very same values.

Tom Fishman, the CEO of Starts With Us, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to bridging political polarization, emphasized that this presents a hidden opportunity for Americans to reestablish a sense of shared values. Fishman stressed the need for both Democrats and Republicans to understand their common ground and acknowledge their misconceptions about the opposing party.

Throughout American history, spirited political disagreements have been commonplace, stretching back to pre-Revolutionary times and beyond. However, apart from the notable exception of the Civil War, a sense of unity has managed to keep divisive forces in check. Experts specializing in partisanship and trust assert that while some level of polarization is natural, it becomes a significant problem when it is exploited by political parties or when one party no longer regards the other as legitimate opposition but rather as an enemy.

Various factors contribute to the rise in division, including the decline and fragmentation of reliable news sources, politicians who fuel distrust, and social media platforms that perpetuate misinformation while segregating users into echo chambers where opposing views are seldom encountered.

The erosion of unity is closely tied to the growing mistrust in the media, government, science, and public health. At times, political anger has escalated into hate speech or violence, exemplified by the events of January 6, 2021, when supporters of then-President Donald Trump violently stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the Republican’s loss in the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden.

Nealin Parker, the executive director of Common Ground USA, an organization focused on resolving conflicts and fostering trust among Americans, highlighted the concern when polarization turns into dehumanization. Parker stressed the importance of recognizing that the other side is human and shares fundamental values, as dehumanization is a precursor to harm and mistreatment.

In the survey, respondents were asked to assess the importance of six principles: personal responsibility, fair enforcement of the law, representative government, government accountability, compassion and respect across differences, and learning from the past. In each case, approximately 90% of both Democrats and Republicans rated these values as very or extremely important.

However, when asked if members of the opposing party held these values, approximately two-thirds of respondents answered in the negative.

For instance, 91% of Republicans believed that citizens should learn from the past to improve the country, whereas only 29% of Democrats thought that GOP voters shared that belief. Furthermore, while just 31% of Republicans believed that Democrats valued government accountability, 90% of Democratic respondents rated it as very or extremely important.

These findings exemplify a phenomenon known as “affective polarization,” where disagreements stem from animosity and lack of trust rather than genuine debates about values or policies. Julia Minson, a professor specializing in conflict and collaboration at Harvard University’s Harvard Kennedy School, asserted that recognizing shared values serves as a positive step toward bridging the divides in America.

Minson emphasized that too often, negative attributes are assigned to those with differing opinions, turning them into adversaries instead of potential partners. She highlighted the emotional and trust-based nature of this divide, which often disregards actual differences.

The nationwide survey, conducted from May 11-15, involved 1,003 adults and utilized NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, designed to represent the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error is approximately plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about political polarization

What were the key findings of the survey on Democrats and Republicans and their core values?

The survey revealed that around 90% of both Democrats and Republicans agreed on the importance of core values such as fairness, compassion, and personal responsibility. However, only about a third of each group believed that the opposing party shared these values.

What is the significance of these findings for American politics?

The findings highlight the existence of shared values among Democrats and Republicans, despite their mutual distrust. This presents an opportunity to bridge political polarization and reestablish a sense of common ground.

What factors contribute to the growing division and polarization in American politics?

Several factors are identified as possible causes, including the decline and fragmentation of reliable news sources, politicians who exploit distrust, and social media platforms that foster echo chambers and spread misinformation.

How does affective polarization play a role in the current political climate?

Affective polarization refers to disagreements based on animosity and lack of trust rather than genuine debates over values or policies. It hinders understanding and cooperation between different political factions.

How can recognizing shared values help bridge the divide between Democrats and Republicans?

Recognizing shared values is a positive step towards bridging the divide as it humanizes the other side and promotes understanding. It encourages individuals to look beyond differences and find common ground for productive dialogue and cooperation.

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JaneSmith78 June 15, 2023 - 3:50 am

the media & social media r a big part of the problem!! they spread lies & divide us even more. we need real news & honest discussions to solve this mess! #Unity

InformedCitizen June 15, 2023 - 10:01 am

this survey shows that we can’t trust stereotypes! just because someone’s in a diff party doesn’t mean they don’t care about the same things. we need to listen & understand each other more. #BreakTheDivide


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