If we needed a reminder that today’s Republicans and Democrats occupy very different realities, Pew recently provided it.
The Pew Research Center fielded one of its periodic surveys, asking Americans to identify the issues facing the country that they considered most pressing. A majority of Democrats identified gun violence, health care affordability, the coronavirus outbreak and racism as very big problems facing the country today. Each of those issues was identified by two-thirds or more of Democrats and Democratic leaners.
But far fewer Republicans saw these issues as major problems. The closest they came was the four-in-ten Republicans who did identify health care affordability; approximately two-in-ten rated the coronavirus and gun violence as big problems.
The extent to which climate change and economic inequality are viewed as very big problems is similarly split along partisan lines. About six-in-ten Democrats say each of these are very big problems, while just 21% of Republicans say economic inequality is a very big problem and even fewer (14%) say this about climate change.
By contrast, illegal immigration and the federal budget deficit are the top problems identified by Republicans. About seven-in-ten say both of these are very big problems for the country. Only about three-in-ten Democrats identify these issues as very big problems
It isn’t hard to see the influence of partisanship in these responses. Pew reports that Republicans today are 40 percentage points more likely than Democrats to say the deficit is a very big problem, a finding that–among other things– is in stark contrast to the numbers who said so during the Trump Administration, when there wasn’t a partisan split on that issue. Evidently, deficits incurred when Republican Presidents cut taxes on the wealthy aren’t as worrisome as deficits caused by Democratic Presidents spending on pandemic relief and infrastructure.
It is stating the obvious to say that government cannot solve a problem it fails to properly diagnose. We have evidently reached a point in our political lives where Americans refuse to see problems that are at all inconsistent with their political identities–so people who embrace so-called “Second Amendment” liberties don’t see the steady toll of mass shootings (not to mention the consistent loss of life attributable to suicide by gun) as a big problem.
What is truly difficult to understand is the survey’s finding that only 14% of Republicans identify climate change as a problem. This, in the face of dramatic increases in damaging weather events, out-of-control fires attributable to unusually severe droughts, rising sea levels and other evidence that is widely reported and just as widely attributed to climate change– and that increasingly affects the daily lives of ordinary Americans.
The fact that members of the GOP don’t consider income inequality a problem is more understandable, if equally unforgivable. After all, Republican policy preferences have caused that inequality.
It also isn’t surprising that Republicans named immigration as a “big problem.” For many of them, immigration these days equates to the entry of people of color, hastening the time when White Americans are no longer in the majority. Democrats who consider immigration a problem generally define the problem differently; for them, the problem is a dysfunctional system that takes far too long, is difficult to administer, and is unfair to categories of would-be immigrants.
The Pew survey illustrates what most observers already know: Republicans and Democrats no longer simply disagree about the policies needed to solve our problems. They occupy different realities, in which the identity and severity of the nation’s problems are starkly different.
No wonder our political system is gridlocked.