Can we agree on this? Americans still think alike
much of the time even if our politicians don't.
To get heads nodding, just say something worrisome about the economy or dismissive of Washington. Almost all Americans consider themselves very patriotic, believe in God, value higher education and admire those who get rich through hard work.
Not much argument there.
But here's the oft-overlooked truth: Even some issues that are highly contentious in the partisan capital have solid public support across the country.
National polls show that 7 of 10 people want to raise the minimum wage. Similar numbers want term limits for Congress, support building the Keystone XL pipeline to bring oil from Canada and back using government money to make preschool available to every child.
There are toeholds of agreement on big, divisive issues such as immigration, abortion and guns. If those slivers of consensus were the starting point in debates, political compromise might just be possible.
Instead, drama and conflict are what feed this country's party- driven politics, the news media, the bloggers and tweeters, even the pollsters who measure opinion. The 24-hour, left vs. right cacophony coming out of Washington tends to drown out any notes of national harmony.
Maybe the great division in politics these days lies between Washington and the rest of the nation.
Bonny Paulson thinks so.
A retired flight attendant in Huntly, Va., she rents a Shenandoah Valley log cabin to travelers. Paulson gets an earful of people grumbling about politicians, but she doesn't hear much disagreement about the issues.
"Washington is more polarized than the rest of the nation," she said.
Judy Hokse, visiting Washington with a group of volunteers serving meals to the homeless, says ordinary people are more entrenched in their political views than they were when she was a teenager in the 1970s. But the political standoff in Washington, she said, "is just way out there."
"In our neck of the woods there are different opinions," said Hokse, of Michigan, "but we can talk about them."
The notion of a divided country even divides the academics.
Some political scientists bemoan a disappearing ideological center, reflected in the polarization consuming politics. Others dismiss the idea of a balkanized nation of Republican- or Democratic- leaning states. They see instead a laid-back land of mostly moderate, pragmatic voters remote from their highly partisan leaders.
Certainly there's plenty for people to argue about.
Last year's presidential race fanned long-standing debates over the size of government, the social safety net and taxes. Some states have begun recognizing gay marriage; many have imposed constitutional bans. Some are tightening gun laws, while others are looking to loosen them.
Gallup says that 7 out of 10 people say Americans are greatly divided when it comes to the most important values. Yet with a few exceptions such as issues of race and gender and views of government, opinions haven't changed much in a quarter-century of Pew polls on political values.
"That's a really critical point that often gets overlooked," said Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. "It's easy to assume when we see more partisan
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