Many experts believe that Americans are more divided politically than at any time in the nation’s recent history. As the Pew Research Center has noted: “Political polarization—the vast and growing gap between liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats—is a defining feature of American politics today.”
More than 90 percent of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll think political polarization is a serious problem for the United States.
It was the crux of President-elect Donald Trump’s speech early Wednesday morning after defeating Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.
“Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division,” Trump said. “To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.”
He also addressed his critics. “For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.”
In her concession speech, Clinton said she has offered to work with Trump.
Readers agree with Trump and Clinton about how important it is that the next president tries to heal divisions among Americans. More than 80 percent say it’s very important and 15 percent say it’s somewhat important.
Deep divisions had of course existed before the 2016 presidential campaign, but the race between Democrat Clinton and Republican Trump exacerbated them—in part because both were highly unpopular candidates by historical standards.
At the same time, some observers have noted that presidential elections often put a harsh spotlight on divisions among Americans, making them seem worse than they really are.
Nearly 1,200 respondents participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Nov. 7 and 8. Of those, 35 percent are Republican and 28 percent are Democrat.
In your view, is political polarization a serious problem for the U.S.?
How important is it that the next president tries to heal divisions among Americans?
Very important: 81%
Somewhat important: 15%
Not very important: 3%
Not at all important: 1%
What is your political affiliation?
The polarization issue is what’s killing Congress and progress. Instead of stonewalling and pursuing just their own party’s agenda, they should be pursuing compromise on legislation.
—Hal Gaffin, Fairport
The more politicians and the press fixate on our differences, the bigger the divide will be. We need to embrace our similarities and encourage the good in people. We need good role models, so we can’t be looking to our politicians. It is a hard road (with) the family unit in decay, video games and TV promoting violence at every turn. What’s left? Churches, schools, family and friends—let’s celebrate and encourage hard work and good values to help people see the glass half full. It is up to all of us.
You know it’s bad when you have one party holding the Supreme Court hostage. They supposedly were deferring hearings to fill the vacancy until the people chose a new president, but now they are hypocritically threatening to keep the vacancy open if their own party doesn’t win. They should be careful, because what goes around comes around.
—Maggie Symington, Rochester
The next president—either of the two buffoons—will only fan the flames of polarization. Unfortunately I don’t feel anyone can fix this issue. There is no such thing as journalism anymore, and I think the masses are happy about that. They would much rather hear someone tell them they are right as opposed to hearing the truth.
What is a serious problem in this country is the political cronyism! It seems that people are more concerned with their political alignments and maintaining that connection, than what is truly good and right. It has become the fashionable “gang” in this country and is breeding corruption! Particularly on the “democratic” side of beliefs and views. I am nonaffiliated, and that is a true way to be in a democratic republic.
Clinton has no chance of uniting the U.S. Her record of deception, dishonesty and elitism will not be changed.
Nothing, not even this putrid election campaign, could be worse than the last eight years of a no leadership/dictator presidency and failure to compromise. That is the real disgrace!
—J.A. DePaolis, Penfield
It is more serious than political polarization. It is about the love of money, self and power that is going to ruin America.
It is evident that our process of picking a presidential candidate leaves a lot to be desired. How do we end up with two candidates that most people do not like?
Candidates and campaigns must tone down the rhetoric. This must-win-at-any-cost mentality is going to lead to violence. Disagree with the other side, but do not disrespect and dehumanize them.
Compromise is critical; it does not imply weakness. I hope our next president can inspire political and other leaders to compromise so that we can take action to address our problems.
—Steven V. Modica Esq.
The more the country is pulled to the left—the greater the polarization. Donald Trump—as imperfect as he is—put his finger on the issue (for many Americans), namely runaway political correctness. It’s just another symptom of the socialistic direction we have been heading toward since the 1960s.
—Steve Wichtowski, Honeoye
I think people are so polarized now because neither candidate has any qualities that are endearing to anyone. The result is people have aligned with party policy, which is extreme right or extreme left—which leaves nothing in the middle. If you lean liberal or lean conservative, you end up with a terrible choice that you are not proud of. So the only thing you have to hang your hat on is how much more terrible the alternative is.
—Tim Willman, Fairport
So much for “hope and change.”
There have always been divisions among party supporters, but it’s worse now than I can ever remember it. I blame that on a do-nothing government (on both sides) that does not recognize the little person anymore. Plus it seems like in this election more people are focused on getting a woman in the White House rather than her credentials. I just pray that whoever gets in the White House can hold this country together and really make good things happen for all of us.
Since today we will elect one of the two worst candidates, we have no hope that either one will bring the nation back together. I often feel that this polarization is what is distracting us from working together. The reason always seems to come back to money and self promotion. Example is abortion, if the National Organization for Women spent money on free birth control and education rather than fear, and the other worked with more positive alternatives, like adoption, we would find common ground and understanding. After today we are all going to need this more than ever. I hope and pray that the groundhog is wrong and we don’t get four more years of polarization.
—Daniel Herpst, Rochester
Political division is more “newsworthy” than political harmony, and so the media typically reports exclusively on political division examples, while largely ignoring any stories that indicate cooperation. The media, to some degree, is responsible for this great division. Shame on the media for abusing its influence, and shame on us for being influenced.
—John Midolo, Penfield
The polarization is exacerbated more by the media than the candidates. It is unfortunate that we can’t debate/discuss the real issues. Our focus as a nation needs to change.
We’re doomed. We have an unethical conniving hypocrite running against an ill-tempered unqualified candidate. Both are big-city, celebrity millionaires who claim to understand the poor and middle-class struggles. Great choice. The fish rots from the head down.
—Dave Giambattista, Fairport
Government needs to be limited. Polarization helps limit what government is able to. Our politicians always want more power and to limit freedom. As long as they fight with one another, they can do less harm.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield
The loss of civility. The infusion of unbending doctrines. The inability to see things from various points of view. The refusal to put the “greater public good” ahead of one’s personal gains. All this has degenerated the processes of elections and governance to a shadow of what it was and what it must be.
Hard to work with someone who seriously believes different than yourself!
—John Sackett, Byron
Social media has exacerbated this problem tenfold. Seeing people ask to be “unfriended” if they support a certain candidate is intolerant and scary. To think that some say we are an “accepting society” “tolerant of others beliefs” is a bunch of crap. Only if you think and believe like they want you to believe are the statements valid. Opposing views are not allowed.
—David Fiegel, Buffalo
This election brought to light how much work still needs to be done. It has been 96 years since a law was passed so that women could vote (something they should have had all along). How many years did it take to get that law passed? Too many! I am very happy to see a woman running for president. It took years to make that kind of change. For those who criticize her and the things they believe she has done wrong—remember, many men have done the same or worse and were effective presidents. Someday I hope to see closer ideology between parties and the people of this country.
It will go down in history that Clinton and Trump are the most unpopular (hated) two candidates in the history of United States. Trump has a big ego and says things without a filter. Clinton is corrupt, a liar and has taken millions from foreign governments. There is no question in my mind that some of these dollars donated to the Clinton Foundation were done in return for favors. Others have done much less and are in prison today.
—Mike Hogan, Information Packaging
We have developed the sloppy habit of first categorizing people, then describing the category in the most vile terms. Ultimately, we don’t just disagree with our neighbors, friends and relatives; we begin to think they are bad people. The media has been a key driver of this behavior. Beginning with CNN’s Crossfire, news executives discovered that positioning policy debate as the Friday Night Fights and delivering insulting commentary was the best way to improve ratings. And, the race was on. There’s been a lot of focus on the contribution of social media to polarization. But, let’s not forget where it started. Americans didn’t think our way into political polarization. But, we’ll have to think our way out of it. Let’s start now.
—John Calia, Fairport
I find it very ironic that many people blame President Obama for an increase in polarization when it is the Republican-controlled Congress that is responsible for the most blatant obstructionism in my lifetime.
—Greg Reynolds, East Rochester
When leaders of one of our parties say before the election, “If she (he) wins, we will not approve any Supreme Court nominations,” that is an outrage. We have just gone through eight years of no cooperation between the parties on any issue. That cannot continue. Is it time to end the two-party monopoly?
—Tom Gillett, NYSUT
Realistically, neither candidate this year can heal the divide. Both are totally unacceptable to large portions of the population. Each has very strong left/right views. Both engaged in infantile name-calling. Both have enormous egos. It is unfortunate that no party could find a candidate that wasn’t extreme. Hopefully, whoever wins this election will not go past one term and we will then be able to have an election where issues matter and not personalities. Today is Election Day and we don’t yet know who won, but we DO know that America lost.
Political party affiliation has come to define a whole agenda that members of a party are supposed to support. Just because people agree on some things shouldn’t mean that they have to agree on everything. There is room for much debate on specific issues, especially given our enhanced ability to collect and use real data. Frozen positions disable the possibility of new and better solutions based on changing conditions. Our constitution is based on debate. Look at the three branches of government described in it, the separation of powers. It seems a desecration of its ideals to hold out for Supreme Court justices that are attached to a particular political agenda. What happened to the ideal of trying to choose people who can listen to arguments and make their decisions based on their knowledge of law and tradition and their wisdom acquired from experience, a wisdom that grows with each case they hear and consider?
—Cheryl Breitenbuecher, retired
“Can’t we all get along?” was the quote from Rodney King. We did get along until the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore that came down to a small number of votes in Florida. Gore, who won the popular vote, refused to accept the election outcome until the Supreme Court decision against him. Hillary Clinton, who was so outraged in the debate that Trump wouldn’t accept the election outcome, called George W. Bush “not an elected president, but a selected president.” Obama was to reach across the aisle. He did not speak to a single Republican about Obamacare. Obamacare passed without a single Republican vote. So much for Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip (“All politics are local”) O’Neill. No matter who wins the election there will be blood, or at least bad blood. I can’t see any way this country can come together when either one of these nominees are elected.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D., Vanguard Psychiatric Services PC
I don’t see how divisions will heal without REAL reform, which would mean real consequences for corruption in government, lies, negligence and media bias (the media doesn’t want to report the news, but rather make the news) from any individual from any party, in any office or behind any news camera, pen or microphone. A prime example is all the video evidence of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal where she lied to us and to government officials while under oath and then FBI Director Comey stated that at least 60 of those emails were classified. What happens? Nothing! Many of us have already become apathetic, look the other way, and bury our heads in the TV or other noise, most of which will make no difference in our lives. The rest of us will continue to be angry, over and over again.
—B. Moser, Canandaigua
Obama was the most divisive and subversive president in my lifetime. Hopefully, the next president will be an improvement.
It’s hard to accept that the polarization has been growing since 1980s, exacerbated by the constant 24-hour news cycle and certain “news” outlets that fan the flames of division. One has to question their motives. Are they trying to educate and enlighten the masses or stoke the fires of discontent? Regardless of purity of intentions or just ratings, the outcome has been to drive the populace into polar corners, with neither side conceding the other has a shred of legitimacy. One would hope that after such a divisive campaign the American people with the guidance of the next president, would recognize their own flaws, tune out the negativity and bias promoted by certain news/talk show outlets, and come together to promote the healing and prosperity of the whole country.
—Tom Sargent, Penfield
The question and poll presented to me this election morning is one that elicited much thought and emotion for me personally. As a 37-year-old business owner with a history of growing businesses in New York State in various industries, I have grown weary recently of the state of business in our state. Political polarization is just one part of the many forms of polarization I have seen in my 13 years being a business owner. It wasn’t until more recent years where my companies reach notable presence and revenue figures did I feel the extent of where this political polarization is actually funded from. While the state and federal governments operate independently, it is the political polarization that creates the vacuum to allow these mini fiefdoms to occur in the first place. I could rant and give your readers specific examples of the what, the hows and whys our state and federal governments do what they do, but I think the actual candidates we have for president and the support they are receiving do a much better job than I could ever do. On one hand we a megalomaniac who actually believes he is smarter than he is. While he may indeed be a man with intelligence, he is a business bully and uses fear mongering to drive down costs and speed up execution times for projects. Some say that is smart business, I happen to call it bullying. On the other hand we have a career politician who smiles at everything because she doesn’t have a genuine bone in her body left at this point, or at least she must think we can’t tell how fake she is. She has alienated the ever growing working poor who have traditionally voted Democratic. This was accomplished in large part by her inability to address scandal directly and her every present perm-a-grin. Those of us who have had to navigate thru the weeds to survive let alone thrive see her for what she is. Although I am no fan of Trump I will sum it up in a simple and crude statement. As a recent cancer survivor who experienced intense chemo therapy I know about killing both good and bad to give the good a chance to live and fight on. Our country has the equivalent of stage 3 cancer that spreading fast. Hillary Clinton represents stage 4, which will lead to death. Donald Trump represents chemo. Chemo is worse than cancer. I am no fan of Donald Trump. I find his arrogance and weak speaking skills to be a sign that we have finally reached the tipping point in this country. Sadly I am even more concerned about Hillary. Truly this election comes down to more of the same or rapid and radical change. I just hope and pray we make the strides necessary as a nation to allow my young children a chance to express their ever eroding civil liberties and have a real chance at what was once known as the American Dream.
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