Many say political opponents scare them, threaten U.S.

Matt Sedensky
Associated Press

New York —Democratic and Republican views of the opposing political party have sunk to such lows that many say their rivals make them feel afraid, a major public opinion poll released Wednesday found.

Though party-line division is nearly as old as the republic and polls have long shown unfavorable views of the opposition, the newest Pew Research Center survey shows a worsening of opinions of political adversaries. A majority of Americans in both parties now hold very unfavorable views of the opposing political party, the poll found, a first since Pew began probing the issue.

Majorities in both parties see those on the other side as closed-minded, while significant minorities describe them as immoral, dishonest and unintelligent, the poll found. Sizeable minorities — 45 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats — see the opposing party’s policies as so misguided they threaten the country’s well-being, up significantly from two years ago.

“The intensity of the feeling is stronger now, this antithetical feeling toward the other party,” said Carroll Doherty, director of political research at Pew.

Highly negative views of the other party have grown steadily since Pew began gauging them in 1994, when 21 percent of Republicans and 17 percent of Democrats held very unfavorable opinions of the other side. In the latest poll, 58 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats said the same, a 12-percentage-point jump on both sides in just the past two years. Those most engaged in the political process — people who say they regularly vote and either volunteer for or donate to campaigns — expressed even more negative views of the other party.

The negativity spilled over into voters’ feelings about their own parties as well.

An overwhelming number of people — 87 percent on both sides — said their own party either made them feel frustrated, afraid or angry or some combination of the three.

Though majorities on both sides — 64 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Democrats — said their party made them hopeful, far fewer said they felt enthusiasm or pride. Among Republicans, 23 percent said their party made them enthusiastic, versus 26 percent of Democrats. Sixteen percent of Republicans and 26 percent of Democrats said their party made them proud. Republicans were far more likely than Democrats to express frustration with their own party.

Still, nearly everyone identifying with a party, and a big majority of those who leaned toward one, said they would definitely or probably vote for that party’s candidate for president.

“Some people are candidate-centered, some people are party-centered, some people are issue-centered,” said Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University. “But at the end of the day, I think party-centered politics tend to win out, largely because it’s the shortcut,” she said, noting that going with general feelings about a party is easier than delving into issue specifics.

The poll was conducted in English and Spanish in two segments, one from March 2 to March 28 and the other from April 5 to May 2, before Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump became their parties’ presumptive nominees. Some 4,385 respondents participated. The margin of error for the full survey sample is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

Most survey respondents said they had at least a few close friends who are members of the opposing party, but few said they had a lot. Among those who are married or living with a partner, 77 percent of both Republicans and Democrats said their significant other was in the same party. Fewer than 10 percent said they were paired with a member of the opposite party.

Friendships across party lines lead to softened animosity toward the opposition, but negative views remained pervasive.

Among Republicans, 52 percent said Democrats were more closed-minded than other Americans; 47 percent said they were more immoral; 46 percent said they were lazier; 45 percent said they were more dishonest; and 32 percent said they were more unintelligent. Among Democrats, 70 percent said Republicans were more closed-minded; 35 percent said they were more immoral; 18 percent said they were lazier; 42 percent said they were more dishonest; and 33 percent said they were more unintelligent.

“It suggests that there’s certainly a personal dimension to this,” Doherty said. “It’s not just about the parties. It’s about the people in those parties.”

Participants were asked to give ratings on a scale on which zero represents the most negative rating and 100 the most positive. On that scale, Republicans gave their own party an average score of 68, Trump a 60, Democrats a 29 and Clinton a 12. Democrats gave their party a 76, Clinton a 73, Republicans a 31 and Trump an 11.

In a sign of the political acrimony, Republicans’ distaste for the opposition extended beyond President Obama to the first lady. Nearly six in 10 members of the GOP gave Michelle Obama a “very cold” rating of 24 or under, including a full 40 percent who gave her the lowest possible score of zero.