Democrats and Republicans share core values ​​but still mistrust each other

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans on the right and on the left have a lot more in common than they realize — including their strong distrust of each other.

A survey released Wednesday found that when asked about core values ​​such as fairness, compassion and personal responsibility, about nine in 10 Democrats and Republicans agreed they were very or extremely important. Yet only about a third of both groups said they thought the same was true for the opposing side.

The results of the survey, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago and the non-profit group Starts With Us, reveal a stark truth at the source of the polarization that has a powerful grip on American politics: while the most Americans agree on the fundamental principles that underpin American democracy, they no longer recognize that the other side also holds these values.

“This is a hidden opportunity for Americans to restore a sense of shared values,” said Tom Fishman, chief executive of Starts With Us, a nonpartisan organization that works to bridge political polarization. Americans on both sides must understand that they still share common values, he said, and recognize their misconceptions about the opposing side.

Americans have a long tradition of contentious politics, dating back to before the Boston Tea Party. But with the notable exception of the Civil War, a sense of unity held these divisive forces at bay. Experts who study partisanship and trust say that while some polarization is natural, it can become a significant problem when it is exploited by political parties or when one party no longer sees the other as legitimate opposition but as an enemy.

A number of factors are cited as possible causes of increased division, including the decline and fragmentation of legitimate news sources, politicians stoking mistrust, and social media platforms spreading disinformation while too often sorting users into echo chambers where they rarely encounter an opposing view.

This loss of unity is linked to a growing distrust of the media, government, science and public health, while political anger has sometimes escalated into hate speech or violence such as that observed on the 6 January 2021, when supporters of then-President Donald Trump violently attacked the US Capitol in a bid to reverse the Republican’s 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

“When you worry is when polarization turns into dehumanization – a feeling that the other is somehow less than human, or evil, or unable to share your decent human values,” said Nealin Parker, executive director of Common Ground USA, a group that works to resolve conflict by building trust among Americans. “It should be about everyone, because these are the psychological steps necessary to harm each other.”

In the survey, respondents were asked to rate the importance of six principles: personal responsibility, fair application of the law, representative government, governmental accountability, compassion and respect despite differences, and learning from the past. In each case, about 90% of Democrats and Republicans rated these values ​​as very or extremely important.

When asked if members of the opposing party shared these values, about two-thirds of respondents said no.

For example, while 91% of Republicans said they believed citizens should learn from the past to improve the country, only 29% of Democrats said they believed this was true of GOP voters. And while only 31% of Republicans say Democrats value government accountability, 90% of Democratic respondents said they consider it very or extremely important.

The findings reflect a phenomenon known as “emotional polarization,” in which disagreements are based on animosity and a lack of trust instead of a genuine debate over values ​​or politics. Julia Minson, a professor who studies conflict and collaboration at Harvard University’s Harvard Kennedy School, said recognizing shared values ​​is a good start for bridging American divides.

Too often, Minson said, “We attribute negative things to people we disagree with. We see them as an adversary who does not want to be a partner. It’s a matter of emotions and trust and largely separated from real differences.”


The nationwide survey of 1,003 adults was conducted May 11-15 using NORC’s AmeriSpeak Probability Panel, which is designed to be representative of the US population. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

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