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Divided and heading to the polls

October 8, 2018

Whether or not Americans like the direction the country is headed under current leadership, a majority tend to agree that the partisan divide is growing.

How that will affect the midterm elections is unknown, but it could mean that unaffiliated independents could carry the day, one way or the other.

A nonscientific survey in late September by Adams Publishing Group indicates that those who claim a party have another priority in mind — seeing their party in control.

Americans do agree on some things, the online survey and interviews indicate. They agree the nation is sharply divided, and most are unhappy with the country’s direction. But those who identify with a political party think theirs is doing a good job. It’s the other party causing the problems.

The purpose of the Adams Publishing Group survey, followed up with interviews of voters by various newspapers through the United States, was to randomly check the temperature of voters just over a month before Election Day.

While the numbers are simply a snapshot of self-selected participants, the comments from interviews indicate the range of thoughts and ideas among voters at this moment in time. And their temperature is running hot, according to the survey of 1,795 respondents.

Almost 97 percent plan to vote in the midterms, and more than 70 percent said they will vote for candidates from their preferred party. Nearly 40 percent identified as Democrat, and about the same were Republican, while just over 20 percent described themselves as some other party or having no preference.

Respondents primarily identified in almost equal numbers as being from either the North, West or South (with a smaller number identifying as from the East).

Asked if they were pleased with their preferred party’s direction, 60 percent said yes, while 21 percent were displeased and 20 percent said they had no preferred party.

The survey asked respondents who considered themselves independents which way they leaned — left, center or right. The results were closely split.

More than 66 percent of respondents said the public’s partisan divide appears to be growing wider, and 70 percent were dissatisfied with federal leadership.

The survey, though nonscientific, came up with results similar to others that have shown a discontented public that perceives growing polarization, according to Steve Schier, a professor of political science at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. He is also a published author and media commentator.

That discontent is nothing new, he said in an email after reviewing the results. And with the rhetoric coming from Washington, D.C., the situation is unlikely to change soon, he said.

Survey participants were also asked how they felt about the direction in which the country is moving politically. Of those, 44 percent were “horrified,” and nearly 22 percent were “concerned.” Those who were “thrilled” or reasonably happy” came in at 17 percent respectively for a total of 34 percent of people feeling positive about direction.

Schier said it’s notable that two-thirds felt negative, but certainly not for the same reasons.

“My guess is Republicans are concerned about the Democratic agenda, and Democrats are concerned about Republican agenda,” he said.

In Cache County, Utah, Democratic Party Chairman Danny Beus is concerned with what is happening nationally on both sides.

“I’m concerned with how hateful politics is getting — how if you are Republican, how dare you interact with the Democrats, and politicians who can’t go to dinner anymore because they’re going to have protesters. And it’s just kind of crazy right now.”

But he said putting Democrats in control of Congress is his top priority, partly because of the party’s stance on health care, his No. 2 priority.

His Republican counterpart in the same county, Chris Booth, says his priority is seeing Republicans keep control of Congress. After that, his top concerns are the economy and border security.

But he also thinks the divide has many voters bailing on their parties, both Republican and Democrat, which means more voters are “unaffiliated.”

“I think if we don’t get our act together, on both sides of the aisle ... the majority of people will be unaffiliated,” he said.

One such voter is Shane Cowen, 46, of Mount Vernon, Washington. He said he hasn’t voted in many years, but concern over President Trump led him to re-register last week.

Trump worries him, both with his use of “smoke and mirrors” and the way he “throws his weight around.” He’s upset that Republicans have not kept him in check.

Cowen said he leans left but he would support a good Republican.

“I try to keep an open mind,” he said.

Hubert Osborne, 77, a retired dairyman in Nampa, Idaho, considers himself an independent.

He is thrilled with the country’s political direction, particularly the moves to deregulate the Environmental Protection Agency and other entities that he feels hold too much control.

He wants Republicans to keep control.

Sue Prevette, 60, of Winston-Salem, N.C., has mixed feelings. She said she didn’t identify with a party and was concerned about the country’s political direction but worries most about health care.

She likes that the president stands up for what he believes in. But he scares her because he “says and does things that are not necessarily in a political manner.”

Voters will have their say on Nov. 6.

- Adams Publishing Group newspapers provided interview content for this story.

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