From the Hidden Common Ground Initiative - Results from a Survey on Divisiveness

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  • Survey results on divisiveness

As part of the Hidden Common Ground initiative, Public Agenda and USA TODAY have released results of a survey that was conducted in February 2021. The survey focused on overcoming divisiveness in American public life.

The National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) has also been helping people to deliberate about possible approaches to dealing with divisiveness by making an issue discussion guide titled A House Divided: What Would We Have to Give Up to Get the Political System We Want? available to download for freeCompanion materials include a shorter, "issue advisory" version (in English or Spanish), a moderator's guide, a post-forum questionnaire, and a starter video to stream online that gives an overview of the issue and options for consideration.

The NIFI issue guide asks people to deliberate about three possible options, and raises questions that may elicit ideas and sentiments that connect with findings in the Public Agenda report:

  • Should we require more accurate, respectful discussion in the media and online, or would that stifle free speech?
  • Should we reform politics and government to encourage compromise, or will that mean giving up on the changes we really need and want?
  • Should local communities set policies in areas like health care and the environment, or would that risk the progress we’ve made and make further progress nearly impossible?
  • Should we crack down on money in politics, or will people just find new ways to evade the rules?

The issue guide and companion materials are still available and are being used in forums around the country. You can also read a report prepared by the Kettering Foundation that shares findings from some of those forums.

Click here to read more and to download the full Public Agenda report.

About the report on the Public Agenda website: 

This Public Agenda/USA TODAY Hidden Common Ground survey, fielded in February 2021, finds a powerful consensus across political affiliations that the nation needs to move beyond the destructive divisiveness that plagues our politics. It also finds common ground on several approaches to overcoming divisiveness. Findings from this research update and expand on Public Agenda’s 2019 Hidden Common Ground report on divisiveness in American public life.

The report, by Will Friedman and David Schleifer, describes four key findings including:

  1. Americans are united across partisan lines in seeing divisiveness as a major problem and believe it has made dealing with the pandemic and other critical challenges more difficult. Yet most think there is more common ground among the public than is typically acknowledged, and many have worked across partisan lines in their communities.
  2. Few Americans are optimistic that the country can overcome destructive political divisiveness in the coming years. Most, however, believe it is essential to try, particularly after the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
  3. A majority of Americans think that divisiveness is driven more by leaders than by ordinary people. Few see any of the societal actors asked about in the survey—including social media companies and local and national politicians—as particularly constructive, suggesting a “constructiveness desert” in American public life.
  4. A plurality of Americans think that a path out of divisiveness will require the efforts of both leaders and the public, and that the concern is less about people having differences of opinion and more about learning how to disagree constructively.

You can also read coverage of the research (by Phillip M. Bailey and Sarah Elbeshbishi); and op-eds by Gerard Robinson, Kristen DelGuzzi, and by Will Friedman and David Schleifer.