On major issues, parties are seen as dominant — with one exception


There are really two ways to look at American politics right now.

The first is to see the country as balanced, with views on many issues near an imaginary midpoint. Small bits of opinion meandering around the center, conversing pleasantly about the weather.

The other is to zoom out a bit and notice that each of these pieces is connected to two heavy chains and each chain is pulled by a large part of a political party. It’s probably the fairest view of American political opinion, to see it not as a flag flying above a line drawn in the grass but as a beacon in an ugly standoff.

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Consider the poll released Tuesday by CNN. The cable network and its pollster, SSRS, asked Americans to rate various political positions held by each party. Overall, respondents said party positions were “generally dominant,” from the economy to racial injustice to immigration. On just one issue for one party, a majority described the party as “too extreme”: Republicans (second column, below) on abortion (bottom row).

On no other question did even a plurality of respondents say one party was too extreme. Just that one, in a poll taken less than a month after the repeal of Roe vs. Wade.

But it’s the flag hanging from the rope. Consider how the two sides pull in opposite directions on each of them. On each question, at least half of the opposite the party viewed the other side as “too extreme”.

The difference on abortion must be understood in this context. It’s not just that Americans as a whole are somehow in the middle. It’s because the Democrats pull harder on their side than the Republicans on theirs; that is, Republicans are more likely to agree that their own party is too extreme.

You may be wondering about freelancers, which are not displayed. This is because they generally align (here and in other polls) with the big picture. Independents in the United States tend to align themselves with one party or the other. In CNN polls, supporters and independents who lean toward that party tended to hold the same views about extremism on the other side as supporters alone. (The number of true independents is small enough that polls often don’t reveal their opinions.)

If we compare the views of the parties on each issue like two axes on a graph, we can see this arm wrestling at work.

On the right side is abortion, the issue on which most Americans think Republicans are too extreme – most Americans and a quarter of Republicans! On the left is the economy, which is the only issue where Democrats are rated more extreme overall, but only by 4 in 10 Americans.

“Extreme” is subjective and depends on the definition as a point of contrast. Extreme compared to what? For supporters, it is often “relating to the views of their own party”. But even that probably overstates the consideration at stake here. Why is the GOP platform on “the economy” considered too extreme by most Democrats and vice versa? What aspects of it are too extreme?

Or is “too extreme” just another reflection of negative partisanship, a descriptor used against the other party simply because it is the other party? Perhaps the tug of war analogy is more literal than metaphorical: the two sides often pull in opposite directions not because of the opinions of either side, but simply because, since for years now, they’re just focused on getting the draw.

In this context, the fact that abortion stands out makes sense. It’s an obvious point of differentiation, especially lately, given that polls have repeatedly shown that a complete ban — as advocated by strong voices within the GOP — is at odds with public opinion. dominant.

In other words, “too extreme” often just means “pulling the wrong way”. But even for many Republicans, that’s not the case on abortion.


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