The sensible majority is shrinking. According to an important new study by the Pew Research Center, a "growing minority" of partisan Americans doesn't believe in compromise, and suspects the opposing party is a threat to the nation's well-being.
The findings beg the chicken-or-the-egg question. Is an increasingly polarized electorate driving political leaders to the extremes? Or is poor leadership and hyperbolic rhetoric driving voters to ideological corners? The answer is most likely "both," with a wide variety of complicating factors — specifically, the social anxiety that accompanies eras of economic and technological disruption. Key findings:
Hard-core partisans are on the rise. The percentage of Americans who express consistently conservative and consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades, from 10 percent to 21 percent. Almost four-in-10 politically engaged Democrats are consistent liberals, up from just 8 percent in 1994. A third of Republicans are consistently conservative, up from just 10 percent a decade ago.
They're also pulling apart. Ideological overlap between the two parties has shrunk. Ninety-two percent of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94 percent of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican. Two decades ago, just 64 percent of Republicans were to the right of the median Democrat and only 70 percent of Democrats were to the left of the median Republican.