Somewhere in the Middle East, a soldier in full combat gear stops to examine a young girl’s bandaged elbow, while two older brothers look over her shoulder with obvious interest and concern as the American GI provide first aid. It would be an iconic image – that is, if photos of the US military delivering humanitarian aid hadn’t become commonplace during two decades of conflict.
And yet, even after military Good Samaritans have become commonplace features of otherwise unpopular foreign wars, who could deny that a combat medic tending to a wounded child does not reflect the goodness of the United States? According to a new poll by RealClear Opinion Research, the answer is very little.
Across the ideological spectrum from left to right, from Democrats to Republicans, from the most “woke” to the most “MAGA” voters, all seem to agree that the heartwarming image more or less exemplifies what is right. about America. . After that, well, they disagree on just about everything else.
The idea that America can be neatly split in two has been dismissed as myopic, and pollsters who still study the divisions in the national landscape as a mere chasm between left-leaning Democrats and right-wing Republicans risk missing a forest. diverse and varied politics for partisan trees.
Hence the project undertaken in 2018 under the supervision of John Della Volpe, Director of Surveys for RealClear Opinion Research. Rather than the old right-vs-left binary, Della Volpe and his team identified distinct categories that better capture the varied perspectives of American voters.
These are the so-called “five tribes” of American voters: Mainline GOP and their similar but distinct MAGA counterparts; institutionalist democrats and awakened democrats; and finally the democratic-leaning multiculturalists. (A detailed definition of each side can be found here.)
Nearly four years later, a period that included both a presidential election and a century-long pandemic, those divisions have only deepened, explained Jonathan Chavez, director of analysis for RealClear Opinion Research, “because the disruptions to everyday life have caused many to re-examine some of their most cherished values.
“What struck me most about this investigation is that the divisions are not just partisan,” Chavez added. “Within both sides, we see fundamental disagreements about America, its history and its future.”
For example, show a MAGA camp voter a picture of Donald Trump, and 64% will respond to the image of the former president by saying he “exemplifies what is good about America.” Only 46% of the Mainline GOP, the tribe that has nearly doubled in size since the last poll, responded the same way to this presidential portrait.
Both right-wing camps share a similar distaste for President Biden, with 84% MAGA and 82% Mainline GOP responding negatively to his likeness. This means that the collective right is more passionately opposed to the current leader of the opposition than it aligns with the former president. And as Trump waits in the wings for a potential comeback in 2024, the right remains divided on perhaps his greatest achievement: the COVID-19 vaccine that was developed in record time.
When researchers showed a photo of an older man receiving a vaccine from a clinic, Mainline’s GOPers thought the image of the inoculation reflected what’s fair with America by a 16-point margin. (36% to 20%). Members of the MAGA sect are less convinced with only 32% and 27% responding the same way, a net margin three times lower.
More than 52 million doses of this vaccine have been administered, with the lion’s share coming from the Biden administration. Unsurprisingly, this achievement and others have earned the president the admiration of institutionalist Democrats. The majority of this camp (65%) responded to his image saying he represents what is right with America. This feeling fades further to the left, however.
The multiculturalist camp was roughly split, with 28% saying Biden represented what was right and 24% saying he was what was wrong with the country. Of the Wokes, only 31% said the current president is indicative of what America is doing well, while 13% said Biden reflects what is wrong.
The ambivalence is perhaps not unusual, given that Biden was seen by the collective left as a candidate for unity rather than a transformational candidate. Unlike the two right-wing groups, these three camps overwhelmingly oppose Trump more than they support Biden. The former president represents what is wrong with America according to the majorities of Democratic-leaning Multiculturalists (51%), Institutionalist Democrats (86%) and Woke Democrats (91%).
If images of politicians arouse deeply felt attachment and resentment, it is not surprising that cultural images do the same. Here, the divide is just as sharp – though perhaps more surprisingly – on the more mundane images.
Show the MAGA and Mainline GOP sects a photo of a small white chapel, and the responses are overwhelmingly positive — 77% and 68% say the church stands for what is right in the country. Smaller majorities of multicultural and institutional Democrats, 44% and 50%, report the same. The Wokes, however, were inclined to say the church was negative: 14% report that church images reflect what is good about America and 21% what is bad.
A different cultural sign filled the Woke crowd with optimism: an overwhelming 63% responded to the image of an all-gender restroom sign as an example of progress. Institutional Democrats were slightly more hesitant, though they approved of gender-neutral facilities by a 16-point margin (38% vs. 22%). The multi-ethnic camp was equally divided, if not out of step with these other wings of the Democratic Party. About a third, 32%, responded positively to inclusive bathrooms, while 31% said they were another sign of what was wrong with the country.
Already, politicians and their operatives are busy delving into such investigations ahead of midterms and the impending presidential election. They will find few, if any, areas of overlap to unite the disparate tribes.