Divided By Design

American against American

Written by JB Williams

©2006-05-11

 

There is no denying the fact that America is politically divided today. Some say we are more divided than ever in history, though we have not yet reached a second civil war level of division.

 

Most believe we are divided right down the middle, based upon recent election cycle returns in which only a couple percentage points separate the victor from the loser. Most blame polarizing politicians or extreme rhetoric for our divide, but only that extreme rhetoric or polarizing political figure from across the aisle.

 

For the most part, we are divided between America’s political left and right. Though most Americans live their daily lives somewhere in the middle, they tend to vote more extreme. But how divided are we really as a people, on what basis, and who is responsible for that division?

 

After some issue-by-issue in depth research on our divisions, I have come to believe that (a) we are not really as divided as we appear on the surface; (b) we have been systematically, politically divided by design, and (c) only one group benefits from that division.

 

Americans are angry and want change at the highest levels of government…  

 

According to a Newsweek Poll conducted May 11-12, 2006, 50% of respondents say they prefer a Democrat in the White House in 2008, compared to 31% preferring a Republican, 2% preferring some unidentified third party candidate and 17% uncertain.

 

However, when the question becomes more specific, the results are quite different.

 

In poll after poll, Republican John McCain wins by substantial margin over every potential Democrat candidate, on average, 46% to 37% over Hillary Clinton, 53% to 33% over John Kerry, 52% to 34% over Al Gore. Other potential Republican candidates win too, though by smaller margins, Giuliani wins, Rice wins, over Clinton, Kerry, Gore or Edwards. Only Dick Cheney loses, and he isn’t running. (For the record, neither is George W. Bush)

 

When asked who should even run for the White House in 2008, Americans are not so divided either.

 

Candidate                   YES                 NO                  Unsure

 

McCain                        56%                 39%                 5%

Giuliani             49%                 45%                 6%

Clinton             47%                 51%                 2%

Edwards                       44%                 49%                 7%

Rice                             39%                 56%                 5%

Kerry                           35%                 62%                 3%

Gore                            29%                 68%                 3%

 

McCain leads the pack for a reason. He has carefully aligned himself with public opinion polls, as you are about to see. Though Americans desire change, all present indications are that they do not see any attractive candidates offering real change. Hillary Clinton is considered the Democrat frontrunner for 2008, but only because nobody else has emerged from the DNC as even a possibility. Yet Hillary loses by substantial margin in every poll, against every opponent except Dick Cheney, who isn’t running. Check Polling Report for details.

 

Every issue is now a political campaign “wedge” issue designed to divide the electorate into voting blocs easy to pander too. In a nation governed of, by and for the people, what is the people’s will on each of these “wedge” issues?

 

Poll results always vary somewhat due to how the questions are framed and what the days headlines are. But the Harris Poll of May 5-8, 2006 which asked an open-ended question, "What do you think are the two most important issues for the government to address?" here’s how the people responded.

 

The War on Terror       28%

Immigration                  16%

Gas & Oil Prices          14%

The Economy               13%

Health Care                  8%

Iraq/Hussein                 7%

Education                     5%

Taxes                           5%

Employment/Jobs         5%

 

The details behind this list are too numerous to include in a column, but they are worth studying and you can study them here. Again, I think this list proves that we are not as divided as it appears on the surface. Most average Americans would come up with a very similar priority list on their own.

 

When Pew Research Center asked Americans to prioritize all of our national challenges, they responded with this top five priority list.

                                                                                    Priority

1) Defending the US from future terror attacks  98%

2) Improving the Education System                               93%

3) Improving Job situation                                             93%

4) Strengthen US economy                                           92%

5) Secure Social Security                                              92%

 

Here are the bottom five non-priorities from the same survey.

 

1) Strengthen the US military 78% support (18 on the priority list)

2) Simplify the federal tax system 75% support (19 on the priority list)

3) Deal with global trade issues 76% support (20 on priority list)

4) Make tax cuts on investment income permanent 58% support (21 on priority list)

5) Make it easier for “guest workers” (illegal immigrants) 51% oppose (22 on priority list)

 

21 of the 22 priorities named by respondents have majority support and are considered to be of significant priority to survey respondents and we seem to be pretty united on all of these issues, according to almost all related surveys. We are somewhat less united in how to best address many of these issues though, and that is nothing new or overly concerning.

 

If it isn’t these priority issues that divide us, which issues do divide us as a nation?

 

In short, it is the “minority priorities” that divide us as a people. When asked about the most important issues facing our nation, those that impact every American, national security, economic conditions, national sovereignty, quality education, a vibrant jobs market and a secure retirement plan, we seem to get along just fine. It’s when we begin to set these issues of common national interest aside and focus on individual minority priorities, that we begin to come apart at the seams. (None of these issues make the national top priority list at all.)

 

Yet are we really as divided as we think, even on the minority priorities?

 

Gay Rights                 Favor              Oppose           Unsure

 

Gay Marriage               39%                 51%                 10%

Gay Adoption               46%                 48%                 6%

Gay’s in Military           60%                 32%                 8%

Civil Unions                  46%                 41%                 14%

 

Illegal Immigration    Favor              Oppose           Unsure

 

A serious problem?       89%                 11%                 0

Deport illegals? 35%                 61%                 4%

Build a wall?                 47%                 48%                 5%

(Americans see a serious problem, but are not serious about a cure.)

 

Racial Issues

 

Race relations in the US? 80% Fair to Excellent - 17% poor - 3% unsure

Success towards racial equality? 82% good - 13% not enough - 2% not at all - 3% unsure

Affirmative action? 45% end it – 36% continue it – 19% unsure

 

Abortion

 

On demand? 24% approve – 73% oppose – 4% unsure

Limited circumstances? 77% approve – 20% oppose – 4% unsure

 

I can keep going down an endless list of issues, but the results don’t really change much. The vast majority of Americans are really pretty united on all topics, far more so than indicated by press reports and political campaigns, both of which work to promote a division that only serves one purpose, the quest for political power.

 

Americans allow themselves to be divided politically, even though they are not so divided individually on the issues. Surprisingly, we actually seem to know what we want and we are pretty sure about it when asked. Not so surprisingly, politicians often want something else and that’s when the efforts to confuse and divide the electorate begin.

 

A nation governed of, by and for the people is obligated to follow the will of that people. Though we are not a democracy, but rather a representative republic, our representatives are no less obligated to oblige our will.

 

When those representatives are politically at odds with that will, the will of the people must prevail and it eventually will. Elections should not be a beauty contest. They should be about who will best carry out the overwhelming will of the people they are elected to represent. Politicians are free to believe in anything they want, but they are at the same time obligated to carry out the will of those who elected them to power.

 

On this, we should be united!