In a politically polarized era, sharp divides in both partisan coalitions

Partisanship continues to be the dividing line in the American public’s political attitudes, far surpassing differences by age, race and ethnicity, gender, educational attainment, religious affiliation or other factors. Yet there are substantial divisions within both parties on fundamental political values, views of current issues and the severity of the problems facing the nation.

The issues that divide the partisan coalitions are different for Republicans than for Democrats. Age differences are generally wider among Republicans than Democrats (particularly in opinions about foreign policy, immigration and homosexuality) while educational attainment is a bigger divider among Democrats.

Democrats also are divided by race, with Black Democrats much more likely than White Democrats to associate belief in God with morality and less likely to say that same-sex marriage has been good for society. Racial differences in attitudes are far less consequential for Republicans, who are predominantly non-Hispanic White.

Ideological differences are evident in both parties. Conservative Republicans, who make up a majority of all Republicans, are nearly 30 percentage points less likely than GOP moderates and liberals to say that legalizing same-sex marriage has been good for society. And among Democrats and Democratic leaners, there are notable differences between liberals (who make up around half of all Democrats) and the party’s conservatives and moderates on religion, same-sex marriage, racial discrimination and foreign policy.

Yet it remains the case that the differences between the two parties are starker than those within the two parties. Across 30 political values (encompassing attitudes about guns, race, immigration, foreign policy and other realms) the average partisan gap is 39 percentage points.

The gaps are substantially wider on some political values, especially those related to guns and race, than others. For two political values on whether guns should be generally more or less available (not specific gun policies), the average difference is 57 percentage points. An overwhelming share of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (86%) say the nation’s gun laws should be stricter than they are today; just 31% of Republicans and Republican leaners say the same.

The partisan differences on political values related to race are nearly as wide (55 points). For example, Democrats are seven times as likely as Republicans to say White people benefit “a great deal” from societal advantages that Black people do not have (49% vs. seven percent).

Across all 30 political values, the differences between Republicans and Democrats dwarf all other differences by demographics or other factors. The 39-point average gap is more than twice the difference between White and nonWhite adults (17 percentage points); people who regularly attend religious services and those who do not (14 points); college graduates and those who have not completed college (10 points); younger and older adults (also 10 points); and men and women (six points).

The size of the partisan divide on political values has not changed much in recent years. But since 1994, the differences between parties on these measures has more than doubled, while the size of other gaps has been largely unchanged.