By Ariel Edwards-Levy, CNN
Americans’ level of partisan hostility is rising, according to a Pew Research survey released Tuesday that highlights Americans’ complicated relationship with the political parties.
Over the past six years, the poll finds, Democrats and Republicans have both grown increasingly likely to view members of the opposing party through a negative lens. In the latest poll, majorities of Democrats describe Republicans as being more closed-minded, dishonest, immoral and unintelligent than other Americans; majorities of Republicans describe Democrats as each of the above, with the further addition of “lazy.”
Although such negative descriptions are up across the board from Pew’s earlier polling, there’s been a particularly striking shift in partisans’ moral assessments. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans (72%) now say that Democrats are more immoral than other Americans, up from 47% in 2016. A 63% majority of Democrats say that Republicans are more immoral than other Americans, up from 35% in 2016.
This partisan antipathy is, as another question in the survey suggests, at least a little conflicted, because most Americans are also reluctant to say that political affiliation is a sign of character — just 15% of the public, including 14% of Republicans and 24% of Democrats, say that the party someone supports says a lot about whether they are a good or a bad person. But half of Democrats and 67% of Republicans who said that political party said nothing about whether someone was a good or bad person also answered that members of the opposing party were especially immoral.
As that disconnect might indicate, people’s answers to pollsters are sometimes political statements of their own, rather than fully literal expositions of belief. But even through that lens, the stories that Americans want to tell themselves and others about their partisanship are increasingly negative ones. Growing majorities of partisans say that the harm caused by the opposing party’s policies is a major reason they identify with their own party (currently 78% of Republicans and 68% of Democrats say this, up from 68% and 62%, respectively, in 2016).
In the latest poll, 76% of Republicans also say that a belief in GOP policies is a major reason for being in the Republican Party, with fewer saying it’s in large part because the GOP sticks up for people like them (56%), because they have a lot in common with other Republicans (40%), or most of their friends and family are Republicans (12%). Across the aisle, 68% of Democrats say that their belief in Democratic policies is a major reason why they’re in the party, with 55% saying the Democratic Party sticks up for people like them, 45% that they have a lot in common with other Democrats, and 15% that most of their friends and family are also in the party.
Independents who lean toward one party or the other are especially motivated by negativity. Republican-leaning independents are more likely to say they lean toward the GOP in large part because of their antipathy toward Democratic policies (57%) than to say that it’s largely because of their belief Republican policies are good for the country (39%). And a 55% majority of Democratic-leaning independents call their belief that Republican policies are harmful a major factor in their political identity, while just 27% say that believing Democratic policies are good for the country plays a major role.
These independents are also distinguished by some discontent with the party they lean toward. While 45% of Republican-leaners say that they don’t identify outright as Republicans in large part because they simply don’t like putting labels on their political views, smaller shares also cite frustration with GOP leaders (39%) or a disagreement with the party on some issues (31%). Among Democratic-leaning independents, 43% cite a dislike of labels as a major factor for not calling themselves Democrats, with 40% saying that frustration with party leaders is a major factor and 30% that disagreements on the issue play a major role.
Overall, 61% of Americans hold an unfavorable view of the Republican Party, and 57% have a negative view of the Democratic Party. For the most part, that doesn’t translate into a pox-on-both your-houses mentality: roughly 72% of Americans view at least one of the parties favorably. But the share who dislike both, 27%, is the highest it’s been in Pew’s data reaching back to 1994 — when just 6% felt that way.
Most of the public, 57%, says that there’s a great deal of difference in what the Democratic and Republican parties stand for. Among the areas of perceived difference: a 57% majority say that the Democratic Party can be described as “respectful and tolerant of different types of people,” while just 38% say the same of the GOP; the GOP is also more likely to be seen as too frequently making excuses for members with hateful views (61% vs. 51%). There are smaller divides on characteristics such as governing in an honest and ethical way — just 43% think this applies well to the Democrats, and just 37% to the Republicans.
Pew Research surveyed 6,174 US adults on July 27-July 4, using a nationally representative online panel. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of +/- 1.8 percentage points.
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