What the Data Say: Partisan Divide?

After stepping down from the anchor chair on the PBS NewsHour, Judy Woodruff started a series, “America at the Crossroads,” where she has been investigating America’s current “partisan divide,” as they call it.

According to the Pew Research Center, members of both parties—Democrats and Republicans–who have unfavorable opinions of the opposing party have doubled since 1994, while those with very negative views of the opposing party are at record highs as of 2023.

Consequently, I applaud Judy for investigating this issue, but I have qualms about her methods of addressing this critical topic. She is not alone in using this problematic approach. I choose to criticize her practice because I respect her and her colleagues.

This series is problematic because it treats Democrats and Republicans as equal partisans. Treating them as equal partners in this bad situation is like calling the Social Democratic Party and the Nazi Party similar partisans in Germany in the early 1930s.

How do Democrats and Republicans differ? Traditionally, in economics, Democrats favor attention to minimum wages and progressive taxation, i.e., higher tax rates for higher income brackets. Republicans believe taxes should be lower for everyone and the free market should set wages. On social and human ideas, Democrats have emphasized community and social responsibility. Republicans have favored individual rights.

On the Military, Democrats have wanted to decrease spending, while the Republicans have pushed for increased spending. On abortion, a majority of Democrats favored abortion rights. A majority of Republicans did not. On government regulation, Democrats favored government regulations for consumer protection. Republicans did not, saying government regulations negatively affect free market capitalism and job growth. Democrats favored universal healthcare, while Republicans did not, arguing that private companies were more efficient.

While these partisan differences still exist and perhaps to a greater degree, there are additional differences between the parties, differences that many observers characterize as dangerous for the future of our form of government.

For example, while Democrats have retained their positions on the abovementioned issues, Republicans have gone much more extreme on civil rights and democracy. Republicans have gutted what is considered to be the most important civil rights bill, The Voting Rights Act. And they have abolished affirmative action.

But perhaps more importantly, they are pushing democracy to its limits, if not further, both locally and nationally. See Tennessee, where the state legislature expelled two African American legislators for participating in a peaceful protest for gun control. The ACLU notes that since 2021 10 states have enacted anti-critical race theory (CRT) laws that attack “our First Amendment rights to read, learn and discuss vital topics in schools.” And at least two dozen additional anti-CRT laws have been introduced in state legislatures. Then look at the increased gerrymandering in the states, producing a disproportionate share of local and national Republican legislators.

  Nationally, Republicans support these anti-democratic actions in the states. But perhaps more significantly, they support the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, which was to disrupt regular national demo