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Charts: America’s Political Divide, 1994–2017

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Political Polarization

Original animation from Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 2017).

Charts: America’s Political Divide, From 1994–2017

Politics can be a hot button topic in America. With rising tensions on both sides of the political spectrum, some claim that bipartisanship is dead. Recent research shows that may well be true.

Today’s charts come from a report by the independent think tank Pew Research on the partisan divide between the two major U.S. political parties, Democrats and Republicans.

The data is based on surveys of over 5,000 adults to gauge public sentiment, tracking the dramatic shifts in political polarization in the U.S. from 1994 to 2017. The results are a fascinating deep dive into America’s shifting political sentiment.

Over Two Decades of Differences

The animation above demonstrates how the political divide by party has grown significantly and consistently over 23 years. In 1994, the general public was more mixed in their allegiances, but a significant divergence started to occur from 2011 onward.

By 2017, the divide had significantly shifted towards the two extremes of the consistently liberal/conservative scale. Median Democrat and Republican sentiment also moved further apart, especially for politically engaged Americans.

How have Americans’ feelings across major issues evolved over time?

NOTE: For brevity, any mention of Democrats and Republicans in the post below will also refer to survey respondents who “lean Democratic/ lean Republican”.

Americans on the Economy

Americans on the Economy

Original charts from Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 2017).

Several survey questions were designed to assess Americans’ perceptions of the economy. Surprisingly, between 60–70% of Democrats and Republicans agree that U.S. involvement in the global economy is positive, because it provides the country with access to new markets.

However, they diverge when asked about the fairness of the economic system itself. 50% of Republicans think it is fair to most Americans, but 82% of Democrats think it unfairly favors powerful interests.

Finally, 73% of Democrats think corporations make ‘too much’ profit, while only 43% of Republicans think so. Since 1994, Democrats have become more convinced of this point, gaining 10 percentage points (p.p.), while Republican impressions have fluctuated marginally.

Americans on the Environment

Americans on the Environment

Original charts from Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 2017).

When it comes to climate change, both Democrats and Republicans see that there is growing evidence for global warming, but they are not sold on the reasons why. 78% of Democrats see human activity as the cause, while only 24% of Republicans agree.

Americans also disagree on whether stricter sustainability laws are worth the cost—77% of Democrats think so, but only 36% of Republicans are on the same page. The position of Democrats on this issue has increased by 11 p.p. since 1994, but dropped by double (22 p.p.) for Republicans during this time.

Americans on the Government

Americans on the Government

Original charts from Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 2017).

Americans are highly concerned about the U.S. presence on the global stage. Over half (56%) of Democrats think the U.S. should be active in world affairs, while 54% of Republicans think such attention should be focused inward instead of overseas.

This filters into what they consider the best strategy for peace—83% of Democrats believe in democracy to achieve this, while only 33% of Republicans agree, preferring military strength instead. Democrats have cemented their position on diplomacy by 17 p.p. since 1994, growing the political divide.

Americans on Their Society

Americans on their Society

Original charts from Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 2017).

On several social issues, both parties have become more liberal in their opinions over the decades, especially on immigration and homosexuality. Democrats have seen the biggest advancement on their views of immigration, from 32% in favor in 1994, to 84% in 2017.

However, there’s still a wide partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans on their ideas of government aid (51 p.p. gap), racial equality (45 p.p. gap), immigration (42 p.p. gap), and homosexuality (29 p.p. gap).

Americans on Each Other

Americans on Each Other

Original charts from Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 2017).

It’s evident that not only does the American public hold less of a mix of liberal and conservative values, but the center of this political divide has also moved dramatically on both ends of the spectrum. In simple terms, it means that Americans are less willing to consider the other side of debates, preferring to stay entrenched in the group think of their political affiliation.

Not only this, but partisan animosity is on the rise—81% of Republicans and Democrats find those belonging to the other party equally unfavorable. In fact, both parties have seen a 28 p.p. increase in ‘very unfavorable’ views of people in the other party, compared to 1994.

Can the Rift be Repaired?

While the above data on group polarization ends in 2017, it’s clear that the repercussions continue to have ripple effects into today and the future. These differences mean there is no consensus on the nation’s key priorities.

In 2019, Republicans believe that terrorism, the economy, social security, immigration, and the military should be top of mind, while Democrats refer to healthcare, education, environment, Medicare, and the poor and needy as their leads.

With Trump’s presidential term up for contest in 2020, the lack of common ground on pressing issues will continue to cause a stir among both Democratic and Republican bases. Is there anything Americans will be willing to cross the aisle for?

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Politics

Decoding U.S. Election Day in 9 Key Charts

Buckle up your seatbelts—we look at 9 key data-driven charts to get you prepped for this consequential day in U.S. election history.

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After a tumultuous election cycle, the time has come at last for Americans to cast their ballots.

Media coverage has reached a fever pitch, and keeping up with the news cycle can be daunting for anyone. To keep the voting public and interested onlookers informed, we’ve compiled nine key charts that can help in answering key questions that people will have today:

  • Who’ll win the U.S. presidential election?
  • How could swing states flip?
  • When will we know the election results?
  • What are the stakes?
  • What does the rest of the world think?

Let’s start with the biggest—and most challenging—of these topics first.

Who’ll Win the Election?

As the world learned in 2016, answering this question is not as simple as it looks—even when the poll results point to a clear victory.

Chart #1: Biden remains the odds-on favorite

In 2020’s race, the poll results are once again stacked against President Trump. Here’s a look at who’s ahead in aggregated national polls:

National U.S. election aggregated polls

Source: FiveThirtyEight

Although this election cycle has been a wild ride, that volatility isn’t necessarily reflected in the polls. Over the past three months, Joe Biden’s lead in the national polls has not dipped below three percentage points.

Chart #2: Viewing odds through a 2016 lens

That said, after the colossal miscalculation by the media and pollsters in 2016, many people are skeptical of the accuracy of polls. Luckily, there’s a way to look at predictions through a more skeptical lens. As this table from FiveThirtyEight demonstrates, even if the results are as wrong as in 2016, Joe Biden is still predicted to win.

Margin of error in polls 2016

Chart #3: Betting markets also agree

Prediction markets are another way to try to gauge how the election could turn out. Traders on PredictIt are also leaning towards a Biden win on election day. President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis in early October served as a pivot point in that market.

Prediction markets for the U.S. election

Chart #4: The Sultans of Swing

There are a few swing states which will be hotly contested, with the candidates focusing their final days of campaigning on these.

Pennsylvania has received the most visits from both Trump and Biden since their last debate on October 22nd, with Trump visiting the state seven times and Biden stopping by four times.

Swing states summary

Swing states have had strong early voting turnouts. In fact, the number of early voters in many swing states is already set to surpass the total number of voters they saw in the 2016 election.

While Arizona and Georgia have voted red for the past five elections, early predictions point to these states possibly turning blue in 2020.

When Will We Know the Election Results?

While the result of the presidential election is typically known on the night of the election itself, this year could see delays due to the tight race and the amount of mail-in ballots.

No matter what, state election disputes need to be settled before December 8th, the “safe-harbor deadline”. After this date, states run the risk of having Congress refuse to accept their electoral votes, with Congress also resolving any left over disputes.

Each state’s electors then meet on December 14th in order to elect the president and vice-president. Depending on how that goes, this interactive election timeline by The Guardian looks at a few nightmare scenarios that the U.S. could get caught in.

Chart #5: Visualizing mail-in ballots so far

Mail-in ballots can slow down the election result due to late ballot deadlines and the pre-processing required for them to be counted. Expect to see a correlation between states with high mail-in ballot numbers and how long it takes them to call their result.

Ballot deadlines depend on the state, with some states accepting ballots up until November 23rd as long as they were postmarked by election day.

While some states can start pre-processing ballots before election day, others can’t start until election day itself. Some counties (including some in swing state Pennsylvania) won’t be starting mail-in ballot counting until November 4th due to limited resources.

Why Are the Stakes So High?

Voters from both parties are heavily invested in who wins this election—a trend that’s been on the rise for years, coinciding with increasing amounts of political polarization.

Chart #6: Voter apathy, no more

According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, 83% of voters say it “really matters” who becomes the next president. In 2000, only 50% felt so strongly about the outcome of the election.

Voter apathy

To be fair, this year is also unique given a global pandemic—and this has certainly weighed heavily on many voters, creating more urgency than normal.

In fact, according to a survey conducted by Gallup in April 2020, 45% of Americans think Coronavirus/disease is the most important issue the country is currently facing.

Chart #7: Voters See COVID as a Top Concern

Research has shown a correlation so far between COVID-related deaths and reduced support for the incumbent. According to this graph from the New York Times, Trump’s approval rating tends to be lower in counties with higher death rates.

U.S. voting COVID-19

Chart #8: The price of democracy

The exceptionally high stakes could be a reason why this election is expected to be the most expensive to date. Spending is projected to reach over $13 billion, almost double the amount spent in 2016.

U.S. election spending

Source: Center for Responsive Politics

Chart #9: What the rest of the world thinks

Americans aren’t the only ones invested in the U.S. presidential election this year. The whole world is watching, and according to Ipsos, the majority is rooting for Biden.

How would the world vote?

But of course, the world doesn’t get to cast a vote today, making this final chart a moot point.

The real decision makers will be in the American electorate—and the forthcoming result will be on people’s minds for days, months, or maybe even years to come.

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Politics

Animated Map: U.S. Presidential Voting History by State (1976-2016)

With this map of U.S. presidential voting history by state, discover patterns that have emerged over the last eleven elections.

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U.S. Presidential Voting History by State

U.S. Presidential Voting History by State

As Americans go to cast their votes, considerable uncertainty remains about which candidate will be elected president. However, history can provide some clues as to how voters may act.

While some states have consistently seen Democrat or Republican victories, other “swing states” have flipped between the two parties depending on the year.

In this graphic, we use data from the MIT Election Data and Science Lab to show U.S. presidential voting history by state since 1976.

Each State’s Winning Party

To calculate the winning ratio, we divided the votes for the state’s winning party by the total number of state votes. Here’s another look at the same data, visualized in a different way.

U.S. Presidential Voting History by State

This graphic was inspired by this Reddit post.

As the voting history shows, some states—such as Alaska, Oklahoma, and Wyoming—have consistently supported the Republican Party. On the other hand, Hawaii, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia have been Democrat strongholds for many decades.

The District of Columbia (D.C.) is a federal district, and is not part of any U.S. State. Its population is urban and has a large percentage of Black and college-educated citizens, all of which are groups that tend to identify as Democrat.

Swing states typically see a close contest between Democrats and Republicans. For example, Florida’s average margin of victory for presidential candidates has been just 2.6% since 1996, by far the lowest of any state. It’s often seen as a key battleground, and for good reason: the candidate who wins Florida has won every election since 1964.

Memorable Election Years

Within U.S. Presidential voting history, some election results stand out more than others. In 1984, President Reagan was re-elected in a landslide victory, winning 49 out of 50 states. The remarkable win has been credited to the economic recovery during Reagan’s first term, Reagan’s charisma, and voters’ opposition to the Democrat’s planned tax increases.

In 1992, self-made Texas billionaire Ross Perot ran as a third-party candidate. He captured almost 19% of the popular vote, the highest percentage of any third-party presidential candidate in over 80 years. While he gained support from those looking for a change from traditional party politics, Bill Clinton ultimately went on to win the election.

Most recently, the 2016 election took many people by surprise. Despite having a strong lead in the polls, Hillary Clinton was defeated by Donald Trump. A total of 30 states saw Republican victories, eager for change after eight years of Democrat leadership.

A Look Ahead

Is it possible to predict the 2020 presidential election? As the last election showed, polls are not a perfect measure. They represent a snapshot in time, may overrepresent certain population groups, and measure voter attitudes rather than behaviors, among other factors.

While there’s no crystal ball, swing states may offer the most insight as to where things are heading. Here are nine states that have been identified as battlegrounds, and how they voted in the 2016 election.

 2016 Winning Ratio2016 Margin of Victory
Arizona48.7% Republican3.6%
Florida49.0% Republican1.2%
Georgia50.8% Republican5.2%
Iowa51.2% Republican9.4%
Michigan47.5% Republican0.2%
North Carolina49.8% Republican3.6%
Ohio51.7% Republican8.1%
Pennsylvania48.9% Republican0.7%
Wisconsin47.2% Republican0.7%

All saw Republican victories, but six out of nine states won by a margin of less than 5%. Trump and Biden’s success in these states may well determine the outcome of the 2020 election.

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