Survey says Americans are less polarized than we think

Oct 15, 2013

2012 Republican National Convention: Day 3

A new NBC/Esquire poll found that Americans aren’t as politically polarized as it seems; most fall in the center. Where do you stand?; Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It’s day 15 of the federal shutdown in D.C. and lawmakers are still duking it out over various proposals to fund and reopen the government by Thursday’s deadline. It’s still anyone’s guess when Republicans and Democrats will strike a deal – but one thing is clear – Congress is more divided than ever.

How representative of American voters are the two parties? Not very, according to a new national survey commissioned by Esquire and NBC News called “The New American Center.”

Contrary to conventional wisdom about our polarized nation, the survey finds that the left and right are smaller than we believe and the center is much larger. Not only that, but the survey of 2400 people reveals that the current makeup of Congress leaves more than a third of those in the center feeling unrepresented in Washington.

Interestingly, the center is filled with folks who don’t consider themselves centrists: 20% identify as liberal and 24% identify as conservative – but their beliefs plant them right in the middle. The poll takes on another contentious issue, affirmative action, being considered by the Supreme Court today.

As hotly debated as this one is, the poll reveals that 57% of respondents support ending affirmative action in hiring decisions and college admissions.

With pundits and lawmakers asserting that the center is eroding and Americans are taking sides, what should we make of these findings? Are we less polarized than we think? Do you identify as being on the left, right or middle? And do your representatives represent you?

Daniel Franklin, Principal at the Benenson Strategy Group; lead pollster on “The New American Center” survey, commissioned by Esquire and NBC News

Dan Schnur, Director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and adjunct faculty at USC Annenberg School

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