Data reveal that “fear was driving the passions of this election”
The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia today released its 2020 IASC Survey of American Political Culture, Democracy in Dark Times, fielded by Gallup Inc. The report, coauthored by James Davison Hunter and Carl Desportes Bowman, finds troubling evidence that nearly 30 years after Hunter’s 1991 book, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, introduced America to the concept of a “culture war,” the country is even more deeply fractured by ideology, religion, race, and income. According to Hunter and Bowman,
What divides Americans at this moment strikes at the heart of what each side perceived to be at stake in this election…. One side believed that Trump and his supporters were gradually transforming the country into a dictatorship that leaned toward fascism; the other side believed that the Democrats under Biden would gradually transform America into a socialist country. Each side…viewed the other as enemies of our modern liberal democratic order. Fear was driving the passions of this election.
Highlights from the survey, which interviewed a representative sample of 2,205 American adults, include the following:
Before the election, over half of Americans (56%) believed this election would be the most corrupt in US history. This view was held almost as much by Biden supporters (54%) as by Trump supporters (60%), and by Independents (54%) and Democrats (57%) as by Republicans (62%).
Although political polarization and divisiveness are considered a very serious threat to America by 71% of Democrats and 66% of Republicans, both sides frequently view the other with contempt. Trump supporters view Trump’s opponents as misguided and misinformed (72%), socialist (72%), closed-minded (71%), intolerant (67%), and arrogant and pretentious (63%). Biden supporters view Trump supporters as closed-minded (89%), misguided and misinformed (89%), intolerant (86%), racist (83%), and religious hypocrites (80%).
Fully 82% of Biden supporters agree “Donald Trump would like to gradually transform our country into a dictatorship,” while 90% of Trump supporters agree “the Democratic Party would like to gradually transform our country into a socialist country.”
What do these deep-seated divisions mean for America’s politics and culture wars? The authors observe, “It is well established that White Evangelicals are President Trump’s main political base, a fact clearly confirmed by the evidence in this survey.” They continue:
Yet it is significant that the majority of non-Evangelical Americans, and the majority of social elites in particular (the gatekeepers of our late-modern society), are so negatively disposed toward religious Evangelicals, directly or indirectly. These are the cultural conditions for the ultimate decline not only of Evangelical political influence, but because of its close association with Evangelicalism, of the Republican Party itself.
This does not guarantee an easy road for the Democratic Party either, however:
At the same time, because the vote for Biden as president was overwhelmingly about defeating Trump rather than electing Biden, the conditions are present for the fragmentation of the Democratic Party, perhaps especially now that Biden has won.
The authors conclude that Americans’ increasing pessimism, distrust, and cynicism
will not fix themselves. Without strong and creative institutional leadership, these problems will continue to undermine the substance and process of democratic life, irrespective of who is elected. Winning certainly matters in a competitive political environment where important policies affecting millions of people are concerned, but winning is neither everything nor the only thing when it comes to sustaining a vital liberal democracy.
The 2020 IASC Survey of American Political CultureTM sampled 2,205 adults ages 18 and over. The sample includes completed responses from 320 Hispanics and 336 African Americans, as well as an oversample of 504 adults with at least some postgraduate education. Gallup fielded the survey from July 28 through August 27, 2020.
The survey is available online. The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture is an interdisciplinary research center and intellectual community at the University of Virginia that seeks to understand contemporary cultural change and its individual and social consequences.
SOURCE Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture