UVA Poll: Almost Half Of Voters Ready To Break Up U.S.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

The deep political divides between the left and the right are inescapable these days, and as the fractures grow sharper the idea of giving up on our current form of government and starting anew is apparently becoming more appealing to many of us. According to a new poll by the University of Virginia and Project Home Fire, about half of those who voted for Donald Trump say they’re ready for red states to secede and start their own country. Biden voters aren’t far behind, with more than 40% of those who cast a ballot for the Democrat saying the same.

The responses supporting the idea of forming two new countries out of red and blue states ranged from “at least somewhat agree” to “strongly agree.”

“The divide between Trump and Biden voters is deep, wide, and dangerous,” said UVA Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato. “The scope is unprecedented, and it will not be easily fixed.”

Results of the poll found widespread distrust in both political camps when it came to the “voters, elected officials and media sources they associated with the other side,” and roughly two in 10 Trump and Biden voters strongly agreed when it came to the idea of a president bypassing Congress or courts to “take needed actions.”

Sabato is not one of my favorite political pundits, and there’s obviously some hyperbole when he says that the scope of our current divide is unprecedented (I’d say the political divisions were deeper between 1856 and 1876), but you’d probably have to go back to the Civil War era to find a time when our political system was as fractured as it is today.

The results of the latest poll are not completely without hope, however. Both groups of voters strongly supported several goals of the bipartisan infrastructure and reconciliation bills currently going through Congress, such as improving the power grid, modernizing drinking water systems and investing in roads, bridges and other types of “hard infrastructure.”

“In order to figure out ways to bridge these divides, we need to understand not just the divides themselves, but also understand the ways in which we can, together, move forward to reach common ground. This project helps us do both,” said Larry Schack of Project Home Fire.

The project’s authors say they hope their work will also identify the “compromise receptive” subgroups among Trump and Biden voters who may be able to help build bridges between the two factions.

“Simply put — we need a real plan to heal our fractured democracy,” Schack said.

That’s easier said than done, and to be blunt, I don’t see “compromise receptive subgroups” as the answer. Take the divide over the right to keep and bear arms, for instance. At one extreme are those who don’t believe that we even have a right to own and carry a gun; on the other those who believe that any and all gun laws are infringements on those rights. Most Americans are somewhere in the middle, but there’s obviously a lot of ground between the two extremes. And when we’re talking about the exercise of a constitutional right, the idea of compromising them isn’t appealing to many of us, myself included.

Besides, I’m not convinced that there are a lot of Republicans and Democrats who are even interested in finding common ground at the moment. According to the UVA poll, more than half of both Biden and Trump voters say they strongly agree with the statement that they view elected officials from the opposing party as a “clear and present danger to American democracy.” Just under half of Biden and Trump voters strongly agree that some media sources “should be censored to stop the spreading of dangerous lies.” And almost half of Biden and Trump voters agree that “it would be better for America if whoever is president could needed actions without being constrained by Congress or the courts,” though the number of voters who strongly agree with that proposition falls to about 1/4th of Trump and Biden voters.

Ironically, the area where Americans on both the left and the right find the most agreement is the idea that the other side is dangerous to democracy. We see each other as the one of our biggest threats, and once that idea has taken hold it’s not too much of a stretch to decide that our individual freedoms and liberties may have to be curtailed in order for “our” side to fix things. For the left, that means (among other things) nuking the Senate filibuster and packing the Supreme Court full of compliant judges that will eradicate our right to keep and bear arms, and I suspect that as we get closer to the midterms next year the demand to take that extraordinary step will grow louder. We’re living in perilous political times, and while I wish I could be more hopeful about turning things around before our house divided falls apart, I’m not seeing a lot of cause for optimism at the moment.

Dec 08, 2021 12:30 PM ET