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Polarization gets worse in U.S.

A recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts on political polarization in America has renewed debate over the idea that one party has moved further ideologically than the other.

A number of congressional scholars have concluded that the widening partisan gap in Congress is attributable mostly to a rightward shift among Republican lawmakers.

But what about everybody else? Have Republicans nationwide shifted further than Democrats over the past two decades?

The answer is – not really. That’s because the nation as a whole has shifted slightly leftward due to a broad societal shift on issues including gay marriage and positive views of immigrants.

Twenty years ago the Democrats were split over those issues. Now it’s the Republican Party’s turn.

The Pew research does find a worsening problem with polarization on both sides of the political spectrum.

Currently, 23 percent of Democrats have liberal views across nearly all items on a 10-item political values scale, while another 33 percent have mostly liberal views.

Among Republicans, comparable shares have either consistently conservative (20 percent) or mostly conservative (33 percent) attitudes.

In both parties, the shares expressing mostly ideological views have increased, but in very different ways.

The percentage of Demo-crats who are liberal on all or most value dimensions has nearly doubled, from just 30 percent in 1994 to 56 percent today.

The share who are hardcore liberal has quadrupled, from just 5 percent to 23 percent over the past 20 years.

The ideological shift among Republicans has been more modest.

In 1994, 45 percent of Republicans were right-of-center, with 13 percent hardcore conservative. Those figures are up to 53 percent and 20 percent today.

But Republicans are more fired up right now, due to their dislike of President Obama. It’s the same way Democrats used to be fired up in opposition to President George W. Bush.

Since 2004, Republicans have veered sharply to the right on a number of issues, and the GOP ideological shift over the past decade has matched, if not exceeded, the rate at which Democrats have become more liberal.

Among members of both parties, the shares who express very unfavorable opinions of the opposing party have approximately doubled since 1994.

Today, 43 percent of Republicans have a highly negative opinion of the Democratic Party, while nearly as many Democrats (38 percent) feel very unfavorably toward the GOP.

Among hardcore conservative Republicans, 66 percent regard Democratic policies as a threat to the nation’s well-being. Substantially fewer (50 percent) of hardcore liberal Democrats think Republican policies represent a threat to the nation.

When it comes to having friends who generally share their politics, hardcore conservatives stand out. Fully 63 percent of them say most of their close friends share their political views, compared with 49 percent of hardcore liberals.

Moreover, far more on the right (50 percent) than left (35 percent) say it is important to live in a place where most people share their political views.

Group hug, anyone?