Editorial: Fracturing is in our neighborhoods, not just in D.C.

Published Jun 17, 2014 at 12:01AM

If you think political polarization has grown only in the nation’s capital, think again. According to a Thursday report from Pew Research, it’s in our homes and neighborhoods as well.

And it’s not just the left or the right. On both sides, more people have moved away from the center and toward the extremes.

Worse, they don’t discuss political issues with those of a different mindset, and most of their friends share their political views. A growing percentage of people have “very unfavorable” opinions about the opposing party.

Pew can identify the change because its researchers asked the same questions in this survey that they’ve been asking for decades. This time they focused on a representative sample of more than 10,000 Americans. Compared with 1994, they found more than double the percentage of people who hew consistently to one end of the political spectrum or the other.

In those years, the share of Democrats who hold consistently liberal views has grown from 5 percent to 23 percent; for Republicans, the percentage of those holding consistently conservative views was 13 percent in 1994, went down to 6 percent in 2004 and then climbed to 20 percent in this study.

While that still leaves the majority in the shrinking center, those on the ends are more active. They vote more, contribute to campaigns and work on campaigns. Among the most active Democrats, 38 percent are in the liberal wing, compared with 8 percent in 1994. For Republicans, the comparable number went from 23 percent in 1994 to 10 percent in 2004 and now stands at 33 percent.

The divisions go deep into our personal lives as well. We make friends with those who agree with us (63 percent of conservatives and 49 percent of liberals). Some would even be unhappy if a family member married into the opposite camp (30 percent of conservatives and 23 percent of liberals).

The researchers say they’ve heard many possible causes, from partisan media to gerrymandered districts to closed primaries, and they plan additional research on those details. In the meantime, we all need to start talking with the neighbors we most disagree with, and the quiet centrists need to speak up.