Ahead of Inauguration, Voters are Cautiously Optimistic about Political Unity in America
Even After Insurrection, Americans Think Our Politics will Improve Over the Next Year
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Despite deep political polarization and levels of civil and political unrest not seen in a generation, American voters are cautiously optimistic about the future of our politics, according to the most recent Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) Civility Poll.
Just one week ahead of the Biden-Harris Inauguration (with its stated theme of “America United”), more than half (56%) of Americans are at least somewhat optimistic President-Elect Joe Biden can restore civility and unity in our politics, an issue at the forefront of his campaign. A full 9 in 10 Americans (92%) want the President and Congress to work together to solve our most important problems, and 63% think President-Elect Biden and Congress will be at least somewhat successful in this effort, including 44% of Republicans.
The poll asked voters to rate on a scale of 0-100 the level of political division in America, with 100 being the highest level. Asked their view of the level of division now, the mean response was 76. But when asked to consider where their view will be in one year, the mean response was 65, an improvement of more than ten points.
“It’s heartening to see, even after one of the darkest days in our Republic, that Americans still share a sense of cautious optimism about the future of our politics and political system.” said Mo Elleithee, Executive Director of the Institute for Politics and Public Service. “The scenes at the US Capitol made me angry and broke my heart. But they did not shake my faith in politics. It looks like many Americans are trying to keep the faith, too.”
The latest GU Politics Civility Poll, part of the GU Politics Battleground Poll, was conducted by Republican pollster and former GU Politics Fellow Ed Goeas and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake between January 4, 2021 and January 7, 2021, thus providing some of the first insights into voter sentiment in civility in politics in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol Hill attack on January 6, 2021.
“Our nation founded with such care to allow free expression of ideas and strong federal representation for all voters, which has endured for these many years, will be able to survive the appalling events of last week and change the uncivil political environment of the last four years,” said Ed Goeas of the Tarrance Group. “Indeed, even after four years in which civility was not seen as a political asset, most voters are at least cautiously optimistic that President-elect Biden and the new Congress will be able to usher in a more civil political environment. It will be up to our leaders, both within our government and within the media, to give voters a continued cause for optimism”
The full Republican analysis by the Tarrance Group can be found here.
“While Americans remain frustrated and exhausted by the events of 2020 and early 2021, and highly disappointed by the state of American politics, the data present some signs of cautious optimism,” said Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. “Indeed, majorities express hope that the incoming president will restore some semblance of unity and civility to politics. Despite their overarching concerns and the large partisan divisions underneath the numbers on who is to blame and the extent to which it is possible for the country to heal, most Americans believe in the possibility of a future in which the country grows less divided and closer to unity than we are at present.”
The full Democratic analysis by Lake Research Partners can be found here.
Persistent Political Divisions and on Who is to Blame
The GU Politics Civility Poll continued to find deep and persistent divisions in our country, including 82% of Americans who agree our political, racial, and class divisions are getting worse. This sentiment was shared across all major demographic, geographic, and partisan divides in the data.
Nearly 9 in 10 voters (89%) fault social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter for the increase in bad behavior in American politics; 78% blame President Trump; and 87% blame special interests.
Republicans are more likely to think a disproportionate share of the blame falls on Democratic political leaders, social media, large newspapers, CNN, MSNBC, and President-Elect Biden. Democrats are more likely to place the blame on GOP political leaders, Fox News, and President Trump.
Concern about Violence Surges After Insurrection
The poll also examined opinions related to the 2020 Presidential election. More than seven-in-ten voters (72%) think politics has gotten less civil under President Trump. In terms of violence, there was a tangible shift in Americans’ concern about violence from both sides when looking at the nights of interviewing before the attack on the Capitol building and the days after:
- voters had similar levels of concern about the behavior in response to the election with violence from both left wing groups (27% of voters rate at “10”) and violence from white nationalist militias (33% of voters rate at “10”);
- after the attack on Wednesday, those rating violence from white nationalist militias at “10” grew nine points from 29% on the Monday-Tuesday interviews to 38% on the Wednesday-Thursday interviews;
- the biggest increase took place among women: initially, 30% of women said that white nationalist violence was an extremely big problem, but after the attack, the number increased to 50%; and
- the poll also found spikes in concern from white voters (21% to 30%), voters aged 65+ (from 32% to 48%), and Democrats (47% to 64%).
Believed to be one of the first national polls of registered voters gauging opinion on the state of civility in our national political conversation, the results of the GU Politics Civility Poll give a sense of voter sentiment on the state of our discourse, how bad voters believe it to be, who they blame for a sense of incivility, and whether civility and compromise are priorities for them.
To learn more about the poll, see the questionnaire, charts, tables, and analysis visit: https://politics.georgetown.edu/battleground-poll/
Academics, researchers, and journalists can also access the full dataset to assist in their own research and analyses. [Note: Any use of this data and material must credit the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Poll.]
ABOUT THE GEORGETOWN INSTITUTE OF POLITICS AND PUBLIC SERVICE BATTLEGROUND POLL:
The Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Poll is a national bipartisan survey measuring political opinion and civility among registered voters in the United States. Produced by Republican strategist Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic strategist Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, this polling series offers unique polling analysis and insights from two top pollsters from different sides of the aisle.
Initiated in June 1991, and housed at GU Politics since April 2019, the Battleground Polls have gained widespread media recognition as reliable bellwethers of national opinion and voters’ intentions. The Battleground data projected the outcome of the 1992, 1996, and 2004 presidential race more precisely than any other similar effort in the country, including those of the major TV networks and national newspapers. In addition, Battleground Polls have consistently been major predictors of what is going to happen in approaching Congressional elections
ABOUT THE INSTITUTE OF POLITICS AND PUBLIC SERVICE:
The Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) connects and empowers students and the broader community to improve and reimagine politics and public service and reaffirm its promise. Founded as part of the McCourt School of Public Policy in the fall of 2015, GU Politics programming is open to the entire Georgetown community.
ABOUT THE MCCOURT SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY:
The Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy is a top-ranked public policy school located in Washington, D.C., the heart of the policy world. The McCourt School’s mission is to teach our students to design, analyze, and implement smart policies and put them into practice in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, in the U.S. and around the world.