THE PUBLIC EYE:Is Bipartisanship Possible?

Bob Burnett
Saturday November 01, 2014 - 08:42:00 AM

As the 2014-midterm elections grind down to their conclusion, voters in many communities continue to be subjected to wave after wave of negative ads. The obvious solution is to take big money out of politics, but another tactic would be to promote bipartisanship, to somehow dispel the rancor between Democrats and Republicans. Is bipartisanship possible? Or is the US too polarized? 

A recent Pew Research study concluded the US is becoming more polarized: 

1. “The share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades, from 10% to 21%.” 2. “Partisan antipathy has risen. The share of Republicans who have very unfavorable opinions of the Democratic Party has jumped from 17% to 43% in the last 20 years. Similarly, the share of Democrats with very negative opinions of the Republican Party also has more than doubled, from 16% to 38%.” 3. “About six-in-ten (63%) consistent conservatives and 49% of consistent liberals say most of their close friends share their political views.” 4. “Differences between the right and left go beyond politics… Nearly four times as many liberals as conservatives say it is important that their community has racial and ethnic diversity; about three times as many conservatives as liberals say it is important that many in the community share their religious faith.” 5. “The center has gotten smaller: 39% of Americans currently take a roughly equal number of liberal and conservative positions, down from 49% in surveys conducted in 1994 and 2004.” 6. “The most ideologically oriented Americans make their voices heard through greater participation in every stage of the political process.” 7. “To those on the ideological right and left, compromise now means that their side gets more of what it wants.”

In a nutshell, Americans are more partisan and more insular. 

The new Pew Research Center political typology poll segmented the American political electorate into eight groups based upon degree of partisanship. There were three clusters. The first is “The Partisan Anchors,” the Republican and Democratic base: “Steadfast Conservatives” (19 percent), “Business Conservatives” (17 percent), and “Solid Liberals” (21 percent). 

When we compare “Solid Liberals” to “Steadfast Conservatives” we see the challenges for bipartisanship. 98 percent of Liberals described themselves as “consistently liberal” or “mostly liberal.” 93 percent of Conservatives said they were “mostly conservative” or “consistently conservative.” 

Liberals believe the “US’s best years are ahead of us;” Conservatives believe the US’s best years are behind us.” 39 percent of Liberals believe the one-year economic outlook “will be better;” 56 percent of Conservatives believe it “will be worse.” 79 percent of Liberals believe the “US is successful because of its ability to change;” 78 percent of Conservatives believe the “US is successful because of its reliance on long-standing principles.” 

Most Liberals agree “Wall St hurts economy more than helps;” most Conservatives – particularly business conservatives – believe Wall Street helps the economy. Most Liberals believe “Economic systems favors the powerful,” Conservatives disagree. 

When asked the question, “I would vote against any official who voted to raise taxes,” 79 percent of Liberals disagree but 77 percent of Conservatives agree. 73 percent of Liberals believe “Government should do more to solve problems,” whereas 87 percent of Conservatives believe “Government is already doing too much.” Not surprisingly, 91 percent of Liberals agreed “Government aid to the poor does more good than harm” but 86 percent of Conservatives disagreed. 

Predictably, Liberals and Conservatives have diametrically opposed views on most important issues. 86 percent of Liberals approve of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare); 94 percent of Conservatives disapprove. (87 percent of Liberals agree that is “the government’s responsibility to ensure all have healthcare coverage;” 92 percent of conservatives believe it is not the government’s responsibility.) 

96 percent of Liberals believe that immigrants “should be eligible for citizenship if meet certain requirements;” only half of Conservatives agree. 

81 percent of Liberals believe that it is more important to control gun ownership than to protect it; 89 percent of Conservatives disagree. 

78 percent of Liberals believe “the earth is getting warmer because of fossil fuels;” 75 percent of Conservatives believe “there is no evidence the earth is getting warmer.” Predictably, 95 percent of Liberals believe alternative energy should be the focus of US energy policy; 66 percent of Conservatives believe expanding oil and gas production should be the focus. 

87 percent of Liberals believe that affirmative action “is a good thing;” 60 percent of conservatives believe affirmative action “is a bad thing.” 

80 percent of Liberals believe that “racial discrimination is the main reason many black people can’t get ahead.” 89 percent of Conservatives disagree, “Blacks who can’t get ahead are responsible for their own condition.” 

There are stark differences between Liberals and Conservatives. The United States is growing more partisan and more insular. It’s hard to imagine how there could be bipartisanship. 

But is possible to imagine how the Liberal view will prevail. Conservatives are predominantly old (67 percent are 50+), white (87 percent are white, non-Hispanic), and men (about 60 percent). The tide of demographics will ultimately erode Conservatism. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at