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How Americans feel about 30 major issues

  • How Americans feel about 30 major issues
    1/ Lorie Shaull // WIkicommons

    How Americans feel about 30 major issues

    If you feel you can't get through a single news cycle without hearing about the polarization of the country, resist the urge to blow it off as fake news. According to data from the Pew Research Center, the 21st century has driven a massive partisan wedge between red and blue America. From homosexuality to corporate profits, to environmental regulations to poverty, there are widening gaps in the attitudes, values, and opinions between Democrats and Republicans on some of the biggest issues. While factors like age, gender, and ethnicity are occasionally better indicators, political affiliation is significantly more likely than before to shape modern world viewsat least since 1994 when Pew first conducted the surveys.

    Similar data reveals that priorities are changing for the population as a whole. A smaller percentage of Americans worry about the economy, for example, than they did just a few years back, while a greater percentage worry about addiction.

    Using polling data from the Pew Research Center, Stacker examined America's opinions on 30 of the biggest issues facing the country today. Stacker focuses on what drives those opinions, how those opinions have changed, and how those opinions play out in real-life policies and events. Since so many issues are split by political identity, it's important to note that any reference to "Democrats" and "Republicans" could also include respondents who are independent but "lean" toward one party or the other.

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  • Race relations
    2/ Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally. / Anthony Crider // Wikicommons

    Race relations

    Recent Pew polling revealed that a large majority of Americans, a full 60%, feel that President Donald Trump's election has strained race relations, compared to 30% who don't think his election has made a difference, and just 8% who think race relations have improved in the Trump era. From Charlottesville to Nike's Colin Kaepernick ad campaign, it's difficult to imagine that most Americans wouldn't concede that racial tension is, indeed, palpable. Only one Republican in four, however, thinks that Trump is to blame, compared to a full 83% of Democrats.


  • Environmental regulations
    3/ Rally against the Dakota Access Pipeline in St. Paul, MN. / Fibonacci Blue // Flickr

    Environmental regulations

    Like so many other key issues, feelings on environmental regulations tend to be steered by party affiliation. A majority of Americans do share the opinion that the federal government is not doing enough to protect the environment, but there's a strong partisan divide on whether stricter regulations are worth the cost. Republicans tend to think they are not, and that opinion is reflected in President Trump's deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) budget and programs.   


  • Personal environmentalism
    4/ Pixabay

    Personal environmentalism

    According to Pew polling, most Americans agree that individuals, not just the government, have an obligation to protect and conserve the environment, even if it costs time or money. That line of thinking, however, is skewed by income and political affiliation. Democrats and the more affluent are more likely than Republicans and lower-income Americans to share that sentiment.  


  • Global warming
    5/ Global Warming Day of Action at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, MN. / Tony Webster // Wikicommons

    Global warming

    Nearly 3 in 4 Americans now believe that global warming is real, compared to fewer than 1 in 4 who don't believe the climate is changing. There is a significant gap, however, based on political affiliation—and that gap becomes a canyon when the question includes whether human activity is to blame. Only a tiny percentage of Republicans believe that global warming is real and caused by humans, with older Republicans and ardent Trump supporters being skeptical.


  • Business regulations
    6/ Shealah Craighead // White House Photo

    Business regulations

    When it comes to business regulations, the country is closely split, with almost exactly half saying that regulations are necessary to protect consumers and about 45% saying that regulations do more harm than good. Here, too, there is a big partisan divide, with 66% of Democrats seeking more regulations compared to fewer than 1 in 3 Republicans. Seemingly aware of this sentiment, President Trump campaigned in large part on rolling back regulations, and he has kept his promise. As early as February 2018, Scientific American reported that Trump might have killed more regulations than any president in history.  


  • The social safety net
    7/ Senior Master Sgt. Patricia Wortham, 445th Force Support Squadron, assists a local veteran. / Senior Airman Devin Long // USAF

    The social safety net

    When it comes to "safety net" programs that benefit the needy, America appears to be becoming more liberal, with almost exactly half of Pew respondents now saying that the government should be doing more to help the country's most vulnerable citizens. The 70% of Democrats who want the safety net expanded are steering almost all of that trend, but Democrats are not in power. The Republican budget proposed by Trump boosts the military and cuts taxes at the expense of traditional safety net programs.


  • The Affordable Care Act
    8/ Rally in support of the Affordable Care Act at The White House. / Ted Eytan // Wikicommons

    The Affordable Care Act

    Few of President Barack Obama's policies were more controversial than the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare. Some of that controversy, however, is apparently starting to subside. The most recent Pew data shows that for the first time ever, more Americans than not now believe the 2010 health care law is good for the country.


  • North American Free Trade Agreement
    9/ U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray Caso. // U.S. Department of State

    North American Free Trade Agreement

    NAFTA is one of President Trump's signature issues, and Trump and the leader of Mexico are currently pressuring Canada to make concessions or be sidelined from the Clinton-era trade pact. Although it's undoubtedly a hot-button issue, Pew data shows most Americans look favorably on the three-nation trade deal, but Republicans are more likely to believe the alliance unfairly favors Mexico.


  • Affirmative action in colleges
    10/ Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary. / Elvert Barnes // Wikicommons

    Affirmative action in colleges

    The country has long looked favorably on affirmative action programs designed to increase minority presence on college campuses, and the approval is growing. The most recent Pew data shows that a full 71% of respondents now have a positive opinion of affirmative action on campus—including a slim majority of Republicans.  


  • The Space Program
    11/ Falcon Heavy Demo Mission / SpaceX // Wikicommons

    The Space Program

    According to Fortune, both Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin have serious plans to put private citizens in space as early as this year—and the space startup sector is booming. According to Pew, however, most Americans think it's vital for America to remain a leader in space, and most think NASA—not private companies—should lead the way.   


  • The border wall
    12/ Kenneth Lu // Wikicommons

    The border wall

    Nearly 3 in 4 Republicans support Trump's long-promised border wall, but an even greater percentage of Democrats—a full 85%—are against it. All in all, Pew data shows that 60% of respondents don't think the physical border with Mexico should be significantly expanded or bolstered. The president recently threatened to shut down the government over funding for the wall, but then walked back that statement.


  • Legal status for children brought to U.S. illegally
    13/ Fibonacci Blue // Wikicommons

    Legal status for children brought to U.S. illegally

    The other major issue in America's immigration debate is the fate of immigrants who were brought to America as children. According to Pew, America's collective opinion on the issue is clear. A full 74% of respondents think they should be granted legal status, including half of Republicans and more than 9 of 10 Democrats.


  • The global economy
    14/ U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo delivers remarks on “Promoting Global Economic Prosperity.” // U.S. Department of State

    The global economy

    Almost 2 in 3 Americans believe that America's involvement in the global economy is a positive thing because it opens up new markets and provides opportunity for growth. Less than 1 in 3 worries that the dynamic stifles wages and exports jobs. While none of this news is particularly stunning, America's position as a player in the global economy represents one of the few cases where Democrats and Republicans are about evenly paired in their opinions.


  • America's role in world affairs
    15/ President Donald Trump and Argentine President Mauricio Macri. / Shealah Craighead // White House Photo

    America's role in world affairs

    Opinions are changing dramatically when it comes to America's role in foreign affairs. Just three years ago, only 35% said the U.S. should actively participate in issues facing other countries, while 60% said America is better off focusing on its own problems at home. Today, it's tied at exactly 47% each. The reason for that change, according to Pew, is almost entirely due to a seismic Democratic opinion shift, with far more on the left now preferring greater American influence overseas.


  • Privacy vs. security
    16/ Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen delivers remarks during the 2018 Digital Forum on terrorism prevention. // U.S. Department of Homeland Security

    Privacy vs. security

    Right now, privacy advocates are in court trying to stop, or at least slow, a massive government surveillance program that could potentially ensnare Americans in warrantless searches of their private emails, messages, and other data—and the country is split fairly evenly on whether that's okay. America is divided by a slim margin on the trade-off between privacy and security in the digital age. Republicans, women, and older Americans are more likely to sacrifice privacy for the sake of security against threats like terrorism—but not by much.


  • Islam and violence
    17/ Lorie Shaull // WIkicommons

    Islam and violence

    From immigration laws and foreign policy, to religious tolerance and perceived political correctness, few issues have carried more weight in the post-9/11 world than the threat of radical Islamic terrorism—but is Islam any more likely to incite violence than other religions? On that issue, Americans are nearly split, but within that split lies a massive partisan divide: According to Pew, 49% of America thinks Islam does not encourage violence while 43% believe it does. The former category included about 2 in 3 Democrats, and roughly the same percentage of Republicans side with the latter.


  • Gun regulations
    18/ Lorie Shaull // WIkicommons

    Gun regulations

    Not many issues are more divisive than guns, and according to Pew, there is far more conflict than agreement on most key topics. Gun owners and the unarmed, however, do see almost eye to eye on a few core issues when it comes to gun regulations. Similar percentages of both groups think the mentally ill, people on no-fly lists, and people on watch lists should be banned from owning guns. They also tend to agree that background checks should be mandatory at gun shows and in private sales.


  • Employment
    19/ The veteran’s career fair Oct. 19, 2017, at Moody Air Force Base. / Airman Eugene Oliver) // USAF


    The job market has offered President Trump a steady stream of good news, with the jobless rate dropping and employment expansion accelerating across a range of sectors. That reality is reflected in polling data: According to Pew, more Americans are optimistic about job availability than they have been at any time since 2001.


  • Income
    20/ The All-Nite Images // Wikicommons


    While the job market might be hot, the same cannot be said for the paychecks of many of those jobs. In fact, real wages—wages after inflation is factored in—have remained virtually unchanged for decades, a fact not lost on the masses. Pew reports that even while a majority of poll respondents are more optimistic about jobs than they've been in a generation, about half don't think wages are keeping up with the cost of living.


  • President Trump's economic policies
    21/ President Donald Trump delivering the 2018 State of the Union Address. / Shealah Craighead // Executive Office of the President of the United States

    President Trump's economic policies

    According to CNN, President Trump is right when he says the economy is doing well and that he deserves some credit for that fact. The country seems to agree on the first part of that sentiment, but when it comes to attributing economic gains to Trump's policies, it depends who you ask. Pew data shows that 63% of Republicans associate a strong economy with Trump's policies and 64% of Democrats do not.


  • New tax law
    22/ Fibonacci Blue // Flickr

    New tax law

    Those most likely to believe that both their families and the country as a whole will benefit from the new tax law are the ones with annual family incomes of $75,000 to $99,000. Those who earn $100,000 or more are less likely to be optimistic about the new tax law, and lower earners are even less optimistic than the wealthy.


  • Belief in God
    23/ Max Pixel

    Belief in God

    Two undeniable trends in American culture are that religion is declining and secularism is on the rise, but most in the U.S. still believe in God. Just 56%, however, believe in the God described in the Bible while 33% believe in some other "higher power" or "spiritual force," and 10% of Americans now think humanity is all alone.


  • News on social media
    24/ Pexels

    News on social media

    Most Americans, about 2 of 3, get their news from social media—but that doesn't mean they believe everything they see in their news feeds. In fact, modern media consumers are skeptical, with 57% expecting to receive inaccurate information. Facebook is still the king of the hill, delivering news to 43% of the poll's respondents, with YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram trailing as distant runners up.  


  • News media as a watchdog
    25/ Joyce N. Boghosian // White House photo

    News media as a watchdog

    Democrats and Republicans are more divided on the role of the news media than they are on virtually any other issue. By a margin of 47 percentage points, Democrats are far more likely to see the media as a watchdog whose spotlight keeps political leaders honest while Republicans are far more likely to believe that the media are politically biased purveyors of inaccurate information. The media are favorite boogeymen for Republicans, but President Trump raised the rhetorical stakes this summer when he called the media the "enemy of the people."


  • Masculinity and femininity
    26/ Ted Eytan // Wikicommons

    Masculinity and femininity

    There seems to be a consensus in America that men and women are different, but Americans can't quite agree on whether biology or society are to blame. The vast majority of people polled think the genders express their feelings differently, have different physical abilities, have different hobbies and interests, and different approaches to parenting. However, except physical abilities, which most respondents attribute to biology over society, opinions on causes were split almost evenly between nature and nurture.


  • Genetic engineering of animals
    27/ Michael J. Ermarth // FDA

    Genetic engineering of animals

    The question of "playing God" with nature has divided Americans on issues from stem cells to vaccines, but when it comes to genetic engineering of animals, it all depends on the reason. Anything that benefits human health, like manipulating mosquitoes to prevent the spread of disease, is widely accepted as appropriate. However, people are far more likely to frown upon seemingly frivolous endeavors, like engineering aquarium fish to glow. In Washington, lawmakers are currently pondering regulations for the emerging lab-grown meat industry.


  • Internet's impact on society
    28/ Pxhere

    Internet's impact on society

    One of the most rapidly changing trends has to do with perceptions about the internet's impact on society. About 9 respondents in 10 report feeling that the internet is good for them as individuals, which mirrors poll results from 2014. Just 70%, however, believe that the online age has been good for society as a whole. Significantly more Americans now think the internet has been a mixed bag for people in general.


  • Digital and mobile devices
    29/ Pxhere

    Digital and mobile devices

    When Apple recently released the iOS 12 update, one of the new features was Screen Time, which helps users figure out which apps gobble up most of their time. Teens are more likely than their parents to report spending too much time on their cellphones—54% admit to excessive use, but their parents have some work to do, too. About 36% of parents admit to spending too much time staring into their screens—that's more than 1 in 3.


  • American greatness
    30/ James McNellis // Wikicommons

    American greatness

    As divided as the country may be on so many issues, Americans are fairly unified in their belief that their country is special. All but 14% believe that America is the greatest or one of the greatest countries in the world, with older Americans and Republicans reporting more patriotic fervor.

  • The secret to America's success
    31/ Pxhere

    The secret to America's success

    Finally, there's the question of why America has been so successful in becoming the wealthiest, most powerful, and most influential country on Earth. The answers from liberals and conservatives are probably the least surprising on the entire list—that's because they represent the dictionary definition of what it means to be liberal or conservative. Democrats overwhelmingly think that America's success can be traced to its ability and willingness to change and progress with the times. Republicans are far more likely to credit America's success to its reliance on long-standing principles.

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