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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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China

How Chinese Financing is Fueling Megaprojects Around the World

A look at how Chinese diplomacy spending is fueling global megaprojects, as well as growing the country’s influence on the world stage.

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How Chinese Financing is Fueling the World’s Megaprojects

On a mountaintop a few miles north of the bustling streets of Harare, Zimbabwe, a curving, modern complex is beginning to take shape. This building, once completed, will be the home of the African country’s parliament, and the centerpiece of a new section of the capital city.

Aside from the striking design, there’s another unique twist to this development — the entire $140 million project is a gift from Beijing. At first glance, gifting a country a new parliament building may seem extravagant, but the project is a tiny portion of China’s $270 billion in “diplomacy spending” since 2000.

AidData, a research lab at the W&M Global Research Institute, has compiled a massive database of Chinese-backed projects spanning from 2000–2017. In aggregate, it creates a comprehensive look at China’s efforts to grow its influence in countries around the world, particularly in Africa and South Asia.

Beijing has ramped up the volume and sophistication of its public diplomacy overtures, […] but infrastructure as a part of its financial diplomacy dwarfs Beijing’s other public diplomacy tools.

– Samantha Custer, Director of Policy Analysis, AidData

Below, we’ll look at three diplomacy spending hotspots around the world, and learn about key Chinese-funded megaprojects, from power plants to railway systems.

1. Pakistan

In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jingping visited Islamabad to inaugurate the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), kicking off a $46 billion investment that has transformed Pakistan’s transportation system and power grid. CPEC is designed to cement the strategic relationship between the two countries, and is a portion of China’s massive One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative.

CPEC investment China to Pakistan

One of the largest projects financed by China was the Karachi Nuclear Power K2/K3 project. This massive power generation project is primarily bankrolled by China’s state-owned Exim Bank which has kicked in over $6.6 billion over three phases of payments.

Billions of dollars in Chinese capital has also funded everything from highway construction to renewable energy projects across Pakistan. Pakistan’s youth unemployment rate sits as high as 40%, so jobs created by new infrastructure investments are a welcome prospect. In 2014, Pakistan had the highest public approval rating of China in the world, with nearly 80% respondents holding a favorable view of China.

2. Ethiopia

Ethiopia has seen a number of changes within its borders thanks to Chinese financing. This is particularly evident in its capital, Addis Ababa, where a slew of transportation projects — from new ring roads to Sub-Saharan Africa’s first metro system — transformed the city.

china ethiopia investment

One of the most striking symbols of Chinese influence in Addis Ababa is the futuristic African Union (AU) headquarters. The $200 million complex was gifted to the city by Beijing in 2012.

Though Ethiopia is a clear example of Chinese investment transforming a country’s infrastructure, a number of other African nations have experienced a similar influx of money from Beijing. This financing pipeline has increased dramatically in recent years.

chinese loans to africa

3. Sri Lanka

In the wake of political turmoil, Sri Lanka is increasingly looking to China for loans. From 2000 to 2017, over $12 billion in loans and grants have poured into the deeply-indebted country.

Perhaps the most contentious symbol of the relationship between the two countries is a port on the south coast of the island nation, at a strategic point along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The Hambantota Port project — which was completed in 2011 — followed a now familiar path. Eschewing an open bidding process, Beijing’s government financed the project and hired a state-owned firm to construct the port, primarily using Chinese workers.

By 2017, Sri Lanka’s government was burdened by debt the previous administration had taken on. After months of negotiations, the port was handed over with the land around it leased to China for 99 years. This handover was a strategic victory for China, which now has a shipping foothold within close proximity of its regional rival, India.

John Adams said infamously that a way to subjugate a country is through either the sword or debt. China has chosen the latter.

– Brahma Chellaney

Playing the Long Game

Africa’s economic rise will likely be a major contributor to global growth in coming years. Already, six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are located in Africa. China is also the top trading partner on the continent, with the United States sitting in third place.

OBOR spending has also earned China plenty of influence in the rest of Asia as well. If the ambitious megaproject continues along its current trajectory, China will be the central player in a more prosperous, interconnected Asia.

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Demographics

The Global Inequality Gap, and How It’s Changed Over 200 Years

This visualization shows the global inequality gap — a difference in the standards of living around the world, as well as how it’s changed over 200 years.

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How the Global Inequality Gap Has Changed In 200 Years

What makes a person healthy, wealthy, and wise? The UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) measures this by one’s life expectancy, average income, and years of education.

However, the value of each metric varies greatly depending on where you live. Today’s data visualization from Max Roser at Our World in Data summarizes five basic dimensions of development across countries—and how our average standards of living have evolved since 1800.

Health: Mortality Rates and Life Expectancy

Child mortality rates and life expectancy at birth are telltale signs of a country’s overall standard of living, as they indicate a population’s ability to access healthcare services.

Iceland stood at the top of these ranks in 2017, with only a 0.21% mortality rate for children under five years old. On the other end of the spectrum, Somalia had the highest child mortality rate of 12.7%—over three times the current global average.

While there’s a stark contrast between the best and worst performing countries, it’s clear that even Somalia has made significant strides since 1800. At that time, the global average child mortality rate was a whopping 43%.

Lower child mortality is also tied to higher life expectancy. In 1800, the average life expectancy was that of today’s millennial—only 29 years old:

Life Expectancy in 1800 by Continent

Today, the global average has shot up to 72.2 years, with areas like Japan exceeding this benchmark by more than a decade.

Education: Mean and Expected Years of Schooling

Education levels are measured in two distinct ways:

  • Mean years: the average number of years a person aged 25+ receives in their lifetime
  • Expected years: the total years a 2-year old child is likely to spend in school

In the 1800s, the mean and expected years of education were both less than a year—only 78 days to be precise. Low attendance rates occurred because children were expected to work during harvests, or contracted long-term illnesses that kept them at home.

Since then, education levels have drastically improved:

 Mean Years of SchoolingExpected Years of schooling 
Global Average8.4 years12.7 years
HighestGermany 🇩🇪: 14.1 yearsAustralia 🇦🇺: 22.9 years
LowestBurkina Faso 🇧🇫: 1.5 yearsSouth Sudan 🇸🇸: 4.9 years

Research shows that investing in education can greatly narrow the inequality gap. Just one additional year of school can:

  • Raise a person’s income by up to 10%
  • Raise average annual GDP growth by 0.37%
  • Reduce the probability of motherhood by 7.3%
  • Reduce the likelihood of child marriage by >5 percentage points
  • Source

    Education has a strong correlation with individual wealth, which cascades into national wealth. Not surprisingly, average income has ballooned significantly in two centuries as well.

    Wealth: Average GDP Per Capita

    Global inequality levels are the most stark when it comes to GDP per capita. While the U.S. stands at $54,225 per person in 2017, resource-rich Qatar brings in more than double this amount—an immense $116,936 per person.

    The global average GDP per capita is $15,469, but inequality heavily skews the bottom end of these values. In the Central African Republic, GDP per capita is only $661 today—similar to the average income two hundred years ago.

    A Virtuous Cycle

    These measures of development clearly feed into one another. Rising life expectancies are an indication of a society’s growing access to healthcare options. Compounded with more years of education, especially for women, this has had a ripple effect on declining fertility rates, contributing to higher per capita incomes.

    People largely agree on what goes into human well-being: life, health, sustenance, prosperity, peace, freedom, safety, knowledge, leisure, happiness… If they have improved over time, that, I submit, is progress.

    Steven Pinker

    As technology accelerates the pace of change across these indicators, will the global inequality gap narrow more, or expand even wider?

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