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Survey: Trump-Driven Polarization Reflects Divergent Views of America’s Future
Ninth annual American Values Survey finds broad opposition to restrictive immigration policies although Republicans are increasingly backing Trump
WASHINGTON – Days before the 2018 midterm elections, a wide-ranging new survey from PRRI finds that partisans see two entirely different American futures. The survey shows Republicans’ vision for the country’s future is increasingly distant from the vision largely shared by Democrats and independents. And in the religious landscape, white evangelicals’ vision is increasingly distant from the vision of other religious Americans and the religiously unaffiliated.
The 2018 American Values Survey, the ninth in an annual series, explores how this split between political partisans impacts their views of President Donald Trump’s signature immigration policies, the country’s changing demographics, discrimination, racial justice, and the #MeToo movement, as well as diversity among elected officials.
More than half (54 percent) of Americans say they are absolutely certain to vote in 2018. While whites and blacks are about equally likely to say they are absolutely certain to vote, white men and black women stand out as more likely to say they are absolutely certain to vote (63 percent and 62 percent, respectively). However, both black men and women (18 percent and 25 percent, respectively) are significantly more likely than either white men or women (10 percent and 9 percent, respectively) to report that all of their friends will be voting in the midterm elections.
Support or opposition to President Trump is accounting for nearly half of the motivations for voting on both sides of the aisle. Nearly half of those who say they are supporting the Democratic candidate in their district say they are doing so to oppose President Trump and his agenda (48 percent), and similar numbers of those who are supporting the Republican candidate in their district say that they are doing so to support the president (46 percent). Notably, seven percent of those supporting the Republican candidate in the midterms say they are doing so to oppose President Trump.
“President Donald Trump is unquestionably casting a long shadow over the midterm elections,” said PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones. “Attitudes toward the president appear to be driving not only the intensity of attitudes on key issues such as immigration and racial equality the but likelihood of voting among groups such as African American women who are strongly opposed to the president and white men who strongly favor the president.”
A Referendum on Trump’s Behavior as President
Only 41 percent of Americans approve of President Trump’s job performance; 58 percent disapprove of the president’s job performance, including 42 percent who strongly disapprove. These attitudes are largely solidified. Among those who approve of the president’s job performance, more than one-third (35 percent) say there is virtually nothing the president could do to lose their support, a number that is largely unchanged over the last year. Among those who disapprove of the president’s job performance, nearly eight in ten (78 percent) say there is virtually nothing the president could do to win their support; this sentiment is up 17 percentage points from 61 percent last year.
These views may be driven in part by the belief that President Trump’s statements and actions have damaged the office of the president. Nearly seven in ten (69 percent) Americans–including 91 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents, and 37 percent of Republicans—say Trump has damaged the dignity of the presidency. Even among those who approve of Trump’s job performance, 31 percent believe he has damaged the dignity of the presidency.
Almost seven in ten (69 percent) Americans say they would like President Trump’s speech and behavior to be more consistent with his predecessors. And in a somewhat rare display of bipartisan agreement, majorities of Democrats (84 percent), independents (67 percent), and Republicans (57 percent) all agree.
Notably, a majority (54 percent) of Americans feel President Trump’s decisions and behavior have encouraged white supremacist groups, compared to 39 percent who say Trump’s behavior has had no effect and five percent who say he has discouraged these groups. While more than two-thirds of black Americans (72 percent) and Hispanic Americans (68 percent) say Trump’s decisions and behavior have encouraged white supremacist groups, white Americans (45 percent) are less likely to hold this view. However, whites with a college degree are significantly more likely than whites without a degree to say Trump’s decisions and behavior have encouraged white supremacist groups (58 percent vs. 38 percent).
Despite these concerns, President Trump has increased his prospects for 2020 among Republicans and independents who lean Republican. Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of those who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party say they prefer Trump over another Republican nominee for president in 2020.
“While majorities of both parties want to see Trump act more presidential, his support among Republicans and other base groups is unwavering,” said PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones. “The President, who once boasted he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and wouldn’t lose any voters, has indeed created an unbridled loyalty among more than one-third of his base who openly say there is virtually nothing he could ever do to lose their support.”
1950 or 2045? Contrasting Partisan Visions of America
Americans are divided on whether the country’s culture and way of life have changed for the better (50 percent) or worse (47 percent) since the 1950s. Attitudes on this issue have been stable over the last few years. There are significant partisan divides on this question, with 60 percent of Democrats and just 34 percent of Republicans believing American culture and way of life have improved since the 1950s; by contrast, 64 percent of Republicans say things have mostly changed for the worse.
When asked about the impact of the U.S. Census prediction that America will become majority nonwhite by 2045, 64 percent of Americans say this change will be mostly positive, while one-third (33 percent) of Americans say this change will be mostly negative. A majority of Democrats (80 percent) and two-thirds (67 percent) of independents believe this change will be a mostly positive one, compared to only 36 percent of Republicans; approximately six in ten (61 percent) Republicans believe these changes will be negative.
Broad Opposition to Restrictive Immigration Policies, with Democrats and Independents Aligned on One Side, Republicans on the Other
Attitudes about these demographics changes are positively correlated with attitudes on many issues related to U.S. immigration policy, where Republican concerns are far from the opinions of both Democrats and independents:
- Path to citizenship. Sixty-two percent of Americans– including 75 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents but only 39 percent of Republicans—say the immigration system should allow immigrants who are currently living in the U.S. illegally to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements. While support for this policy among Americans overall has remained remarkably stable since 2013, Republicans’ attitudes have shifted significantly over the past two years. Among Republicans, support for a path to citizenship has dropped 16 points (from 55 percent in 2016 to 39 percent in 2018), while support for deportation has jumped from 28 percent to 42 percent. Attitudes among Democrats and independents have remained stable during this period.
- Building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico: Nearly six in ten (58 percent) Americans, including 80 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents, oppose building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. By contrast, 80 percent of Republicans favor building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, up from 66 percent in 2016.
- DACA: A majority (62 percent) of Americans, including 78 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents but only 44 percent of Republicans, favor allowing immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status. A majority (55 percent) of Republicans oppose this policy.
- Preventing Refugees from Entering the U.S.: Six in ten (60 percent) Americans, including 75 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents but only 36 percent of Republicans, oppose passing a law to prevent refugees from entering the U.S. Just 37 percent of Americans, but more than six in ten (63 percent) Republicans, support such a law.
- Muslim Travel Ban: Americans are divided in their support for a policy that temporarily prevents people from some majority-Muslim countries from entering the country (49 percent favor, 50 percent oppose). Support for this policy is up nine percentage points since 2017, due mostly to increased Republican support, which jumped 16 points. More than eight in ten (82 percent) Republicans favor such a ban, up from 66 percent in 2017; less than half (45 percent) of independents and 30 percent of Democrats favor such a ban.
- Family Separation Policy: Twenty-six percent of Americans favor a policy separating children from their parents and charging parents as criminals when they enter the country without permission. Seventy-two percent of Americans, including 90 percent of Democrats, oppose such a policy today. Fifty-three percent of Republicans support this policy, while 47 percent are opposed.
“Taking their cues from President Trump, Republicans are moving further away from their fellow Americans on many issues related to immigration,” said Janelle Wong, PRRI Public Fellow, and Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland. “However, the DACA and a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally remain policy solutions that retain broad support, and there is strong opposition to policies that separate children from parents.”
Partisan Divides Over #MeToo Movement
Americans overall do not believe that institutions like the Republican Party (63 percent), churches and places of worship (62 percent), colleges and universities (55 percent) or the Democratic Party (51 percent) are successfully responding to the issue of sexual harassment and assault. Businesses are the lone exception. A majority of Americans – 54 percent – say businesses are handling the issue at least somewhat well. Forty-three percent of Americans say they are not.
Views of the #MeToo movement, though, are more divided along partisan lines. Almost half of Americans (48 percent) say the #MeToo movement has helped to address workplace sexual harassment and assault, compared to 16 percent who say it has had no impact, and 18 percent who say it has led to the unfair treatment of men. Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans (64 percent vs. 29 percent) to say the movement has helped address issues of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Republicans instead are more than three times as likely as Democrats to say the movement has led to the unfair treatment of men (33 percent vs. 9 percent). Nearly four in ten (38 percent) of Republican men, compared to 26 percent of Republican women say the #MeToo movement has led to the unfair treatment of men.
Partisan Divides Over Discrimination Against African Americans and Police Violence
Democrats (90 percent) are forty-two percentage points more likely than Republicans (48 percent) to say there is a lot of discrimination against blacks in America today. Seventy-three percent of Americans share this belief. And while only one-third (33 percent) of Americans say there is a lot of discrimination against whites, partisans are far apart in their views on this issue. Almost half (48 percent) of Republicans say whites face a lot of discrimination, compared to 22 percent of Democrats.
A majority of Americans (53 percent) believe recent killings of African American men by police are part of a broader pattern of how police treat the black community, compared to 45 percent who say these are isolated incidents. Partisans see this issue in sharply different ways. Seventy-three percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents but only 22 percent of Republicans say these killings of African American men by police are part of a broader pattern. Seventy-seven percent of Republicans say the killings of black men by police are isolated incidents.
Newsworthy Additional Findings
- Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say that electing more people from the following backgrounds would make things in the country better: working-class people (74 vs. 64 percent), women (72 vs. 26 percent), people from racial and ethnic minority groups (61 vs. 22 percent), lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (44 vs. 9 percent), non-religious people (37 vs. 10 percent), or people from non-Christian religious groups (35 vs. 9 percent).
- Nearly half (47 percent) of Americans say that based on what they have read or heard, President Trump should be impeached, compared to 51 percent who disagree. In February 2017, shortly after Trump took office, only three in ten (30 percent) Americans supported Trump’s impeachment. Notably, nearly eight in ten (78 percent) black women and nearly two-thirds of Hispanic women (64 percent), compared to only 44 percent of white women, say Trump should be impeached. A majority (54 percent) of white women say they do not believe Trump should be impeached.
A full copy of the 2018 American Values Survey report with more details on these findings, as well as Americans’ views on the FBI, Russia, the Mueller investigation, professional athletes kneeling, and the treatment of Confederate monuments, can be accessed at PRRI.org.
The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI. The survey was made possible by generous grants from The Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, and The New World Foundation. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 2,509 adults (age 18 and up) living in the United States, including all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Interviews were conducted both online using a self-administered design and by telephone. All interviews were conducted among participants in AmeriSpeak, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the national U.S. adult population run by NORC at the University of Chicago. Panel participants without internet access, which included 109 respondents, were interviewed via telephone by professional interviewers under the direction of NORC. Interviewing was conducted in both Spanish and English between September 17 and October 1, 2018. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.8 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. The design effect for the survey is 2.1.
PRRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture and public policy.