UNITED IN PESSIMISM

Democrats and Republicans agree on some surprising issues, but not on how to solve them

Americans’ optimism is flagging.
Americans’ optimism is flagging.
Image: Naples Daily News via USA Today Network/Alex Driehaus
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Americans are deeply divided along political lines, and most believe that polarization will only get worse in the future, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Still, the poll also found a surprising degree of overlap between the two camps. Both Democrats and Republicans are worried about bad public schools, unaffordable healthcare, and the prospect of shrinking retirement funds.

The findings suggest that although Americans are seemingly living in parallel worlds, ideologically, they face many of the same everyday struggles. Overall, they show the American public is decidedly pessimistic about their future.

Polarization into the future

Members of both parties agree that their disagreements will get sharper with time. When Pew asked how they see political polarization evolving in the next 30 years, the majority of Republicans and Democrats answered that it would grow. (The poll, whose results were released Mar. 21, was conducted in December of last year.)

Setting priorities straight

Despite the polarization, Republicans and Democrats want the government to include some of the same items on its to-do list, even if not in the same order. Here’s what poll respondents said should be Washington DC’s top priorities to make the lives of future generations better. (Pew’s report only includes the top five answers by party.)

Healthcare, and to a lesser degree, education, are two issues that members from both parties are worried bout. Though Democrats clearly care more about them, a decent share of Republicans agree.

Perceptive Republicans will also notice that the top priorities for most of their party members—for example, reducing immigration—rank relatively low among Americans overall.

Social Security benefits

Another shared concern is Social Security. More than 80% of respondents believe that in the future most Americans will have to work past 70 in order to save enough for retirement. About half of those 49 and younger said they don’t expect Social Security to be available by the time they retire. Of those 50 and older, only a quarter predict they’ll get benefits.

But across party lines, most Americans want the government to prevent those predictions from becoming a reality. They don’t wan’t to see benefits cut.

To be sure, the issues pinpointed by the survey are hard to solve. And though they might agree on the problems, Republicans and Democrats don’t necessarily see eye to eye on how to solve them. (The fight over the Affordable Care Act is a case study on this.)

Still, working together on those shared problems might bolster politicians’ approval ratings among both Republican and Democratic voters. Another big concern they share, according to the poll: Washington DC dysfunction.