polarization that somehow American values are shifting. In most
dimensions the way Americans overall look at things is very
consistent over time."
While U.S. opinion overall stuck to the middle of the road, the politically engaged became better at sorting themselves into like- minded camps. Voters changed views or changed parties, and increasing numbers left the parties to become independents. Rockefeller Republicans and Reagan Democrats disappeared.
The remaining party faithful are more ideologically distilled.
Two decades ago, Republican support for stricter environmental rules was at 86 percent, almost as high as for Democrats. Last year only 47 percent of Republicans wanted tougher environmental rules, Pew found. Democratic support remained high.
On family values, it was Democrats who changed.
Over 25 years, the numbers of Democrats saying they had "old- fashioned values" about family and marriage declined from 86 percent to 60 percent, while Republicans held steady.
Despite the party shifts, stricter environmental rules and old- fashioned values are still endorsed by 7 out of 10 people.
Likewise, the abortion debate divides the political parties and fervent activists. Yet most people stand somewhere in the middle.
They overwhelmingly say abortion should be legal under some circumstances, especially in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother's life. At the same time, large majorities support some restrictions, such as a 24-hour waiting period and parental consent for minors.
Gun control and illegal immigration? U.S. opinion is torn, with angry voices on all sides.
Yet some ideas are getting support from 4 out of 5 people polled: extending federal background checks to all gun buyers, tightening security at the nation's borders and providing a path to citizenship for some workers who are in the country illegally, if they meet requirements such as paying back taxes.
So there's common ground.
But even where people agree on big ideas, some of those ideas may conflict with each other.
Republicans aren't the only ones who say business is the nation's backbone. Nearly three-fourths of Americans agree. But just as many worry that there's too much power in the hands of a few big companies - a Democratic-sounding sentiment. Seven in 10 say the poor have become too dependent on government assistance, but even more want government action to make health care affordable and accessible.
A resounding majority believes that in the United States "the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer." But there's no consensus on what, if anything, to do about that.
There's bipartisan disdain for lawmakers. The divided Congress gets 15 percent approval from Republicans and 13 percent among Democrats, according to Gallup.
What else can bring a sprawling, diverse, free-spirited nation of 316 million close to agreement? It's hard to say. Polls rarely measure the mom-and-apple-pie stuff.
"If there's something that's really a consensus, you are not going to find surveys asking about it," said Tom Smith, director of the giant General Social Survey since 1980.
"If everybody agreed, there would be no debate," said Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport.
"There's an argument to be made that from debate and disagreement come truth."
Originally published by CONNIE CASS Associated Press.
(c) 2013 Tulsa World. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.
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