The Policy Divide in 2019

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 31, 2019 — The Pew Research Center for US Politics and Policy released the results of its annual “Public’s Priorities” survey (Jan. 9-14; 1,505 US adults) and found areas of both consistencies and great change from within the aggregate responses.

In terms of stability, the top priorities remain almost unchanged from last year:

  • The Economy
  • Healthcare Costs
  • Education
  • Terrorism
  • Social Security
  • Medicare

However, the stark partisan divide among some of these and other issues is worthy of further examination.

For example, while 70 percent of the respondents believe the economy should be a top priority for the president and Congress, there is a 15-point gap between the positions of Republicans and Democrats. On the GOP side, 79 percent said the economy should be a top priority, while only 64 percent of Democrats agreed.

The ratio is reversed when contemplating healthcare costs. While 77 percent of Democrats said this should be a top governmental priority, only 59 percent of Republicans answered the same.

The greatest disparity between the party perspectives came in four issue areas, meaning the point spread between the two political entities was 30 points or greater. The areas of greatest disproportionate priority between the two parties are:

  • Climate Change
  • The Environment
  • The Military
  • Terrorism

A total of 67 percent of Democrats believe climate change should be a top policy priority, but only 21 percent of Republicans concur. Therefore, the swing on this issue, the starkest of any mentioned, is 46 percentage points.

Closely related is the environment. For Democrats, 74 percent cited this topic as a priority issue, while only 31 percent of Republicans did so — a swing of 43 points.

Republicans view military spending and preparedness as a top priority, while Democrats are less concerned. A total of 65 percent of GOP respondents said military and defense should be a priority topic, contrasted with 31 percent of Democrats — a swing of 34 points.

The issue of terrorism is the final issue area that had at least a 30-percentage point difference in importance between respondents of the two parties. Here, 83 percent of Republicans said the issue is of priority importance, but only 53 percent of Democrats answered similarly.

The areas of greatest agreement, though down on the priority lists for both parties, are jobs (two-point difference), Social Security funding (three points), drug addiction and transportation (both seven-point differences, and each with more Democrats citing the particular issue).

Perspectives that have changed greatly over time are whether or not there is a significant difference between the two major parties, how partisanship is gauged, and the manner in which the respondents view their own political party.

As late as 2011, the Pew annual priorities survey found that those believing the two parties were about the same in their overall outlook were at parity. Today, however, 54 percent of the current respondents answered that there is a great difference between the parties, and another 30 percent said there is a “fair amount” of dissimilarity. Only 13 percent said the two are relatively the same.

In 2009, Pew respondents, by a 50-39 percent margin, believed the two parties could work together. Today — by a much wider 71-29 percent spread — they believe the two parties only bicker and oppose one another.

A great deal of change has occurred among Republican respondents as to how they view themselves. Right before the 2016 presidential general election, GOP respondents believed their party, by a 70-27 percent split, was mostly divided. Today, a clear majority, 55-41 percent, say the party is mostly united, and by a 58-38 percent margin want the party to be more conservative. Democrats, on the other hand, want their party to become more moderate (53-40 percent response in 2019), which has remained consistent since 2008 (57-33 percent for more moderation during that particular survey year).

The Pew annual priorities survey gives us a useful overview as to where the American public currently stands, how it is changing, and what issues and positions remain consistent over time. We can expect the issue areas of greatest disagreement to become the cornerstone of discussion throughout the 2020 presidential campaign.

• See more details here: Public’s 2019 Priorities: Economy, Health Care, Education and Security All Near Top of List

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