Do Not Publish

GENERIC President Bush and John Kerry AP / CBS

The 2000 election results famously illustrated by the red and blue divisions on the election night map - delineated two very different Americas: one comprised of mainly coastal states that voted Democratic, and another, mostly in the South and Midwest, which voted Republican. Coming, as it did, after years of increasingly strained partisan divisions in Congress, it appeared that America was deeply divided - and many wonder if those patterns will repeat themselves in 2004.

There are indications that voters do view the country as politically polarized. Most voters in this CBS News/New York Times poll see differences between the two parties, and they are more likely than ever to think it matters who is elected.

VIEWS ON GOVERNMENT AND LEADERS

One example of the increase in voters? perceptions of polarization can be found in the change in views on whether it matters who is elected president. More than in other presidential election years, voters see a lot at stake in the 2004 election: 82% think it does matter who is elected president, and only 17% believe things go on as usual no matter who is elected. In fact, the percentage who disagree that it makes no difference who is elected president is the highest it has been since CBS News began asking the question nearly thirty years ago.

IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE WHO IS PRESIDENT
(Registered voters)

Now
Agree
17%
Disagree
82%
11/2000
Agree
29%
Disagree
68%
10/1996
Agree
32%
Disagree
66%
4/1992
Agree
38%
Disagree
60%
11/1988
Agree
24%
Disagree
74%
11/1984
Agree
19%
Disagree
79%
11/1976
Agree
31%
Disagree
61%

More than eight in ten Democrats and Republicans say it makes a difference who is elected.

In addition, most voters see the two political parties as representing very different things. Nearly three quarters of voters now think there are differences between what the Democrats and Republicans stand for.

ARE THERE IMPORTANT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS?

Yes
74%
No
22%

Comparing these results to a similar question indicates that in fact, the percentage that say there are important differences is now the highest it has been in 24 years.

ARE THERE IMPORTANT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE PARTIES?


9/19981/199510/199011/19884/19818/1980
Yes64%66%53%61%50%43%
No282941354241
Overwhelming numbers of partisans on each side see definite differences between the GOP and the Democrats. Most Independents do, too.

And many voters think George W. Bush's presidency has caused the country to become polarized. 51% think Bush has divided people, and 32% think he has united them. Republicans, who are far more approving of Bush?s presidency than Democrats, are less likely to see Bush as a divider, but even 22% of them think he has caused a greater rift among Americans.

HAS GEORGE W. BUSH??

All
Brought different groups together?
32%
Divided them?
51%
Republicans
Brought different groups together?
53%
Divided them?
22%
Democrats
Brought different groups together?
18%
Divided them?
69%
Independents
Brought different groups together?
26%
Divided them?
58%

LOOKING AHEAD TO NOVEMBER

One thing that is certain is that most voters who now align themselves with the Democratic or Republican Party probably won't be voting for a candidate from the opposing party on Election Day. Over 8 in 10 Democrats and 9 in 10 Republicans are voting for their party's candidate, and 8 in 10 of each group say their mind is made up.

KERRY VS. BUSH: CHOICE IN NOVEMBER



AllReps.Dems.Inds.
John Kerry45%4%82%44%
George Bush44901037
Mind is made up74%80%81%59%
Independents favor Kerry, but by a seven point margin, and far more of them say they could change their mind by November.

There are signs that partisanship is running stronger this year. In July 1996, 21% of Republicans said they would vote for Bill Clinton. There is no comparable crossover vote among Democrats so far in this election.

One possible reason that so few voters are crossing party lines is that Republicans and Democrats are each looking for very different things from a president. Democratic voters mainly want a president who is good at managing the government, while Republican voters want a president who will be a strong moral leader.

WHAT IS MORE IMPORTANT IN A PRESIDENT?

AllRepsDemsInds
Ability to manage the government55%36%68%59%
Ability to provide moral leadership36542530
In the 2000 exit poll, taken on Election Day, 60% said the candidate's ability to manage the government was more important, while 34% chose moral leadership.

POLARIZATION BETWEEN THE PARTIES

Perceptions aside, are this country's voters actually polarized in their views? On many current issues, they are. Voters from each party have drastically different views on a number of issues, from current economic conditions to the role of religion in a presidential campaign:
  • 75% of Republicans think the country is headed in the right direction, but 83% of Democrats think it is on the wrong course.
  • They also have differing views of the economy: 88% of Republicans think it is very or fairly good now, while 66% of Democrats think it is vary or fairly bad.
  • Most Republicans think candidates should discuss their religious beliefs; most Democrats think they should not.
  • They clearly have different views on the war in Iraq; 80% of Republicans think invading Iraq was the right thing to do, while 66% of Democrats thought the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq. Nor do they agree on how things are going for the U.S. there.
  • Their personal finances differ greatly as well; far more Democrats than Republicans are struggling to pay the bills, and more Democrats are concerned about losing a job.





























Reps.Dems.
Country is headed in:
Right direction75%12%
Wrong track2083
Economy is:
Good88%33%
Bad1166
Candidates discuss religion?
Should62%31%
Should not3464
Military action in Iraq:
Right thing80%27%
Stayed out1566
How are things going for U.S. in Iraq?
Well68%22%
Badly2776
Keeping up with the bills is:
Hard39%66%
Easy5831
Concern about job loss:
Very8%35%
Somewhat2831
Not at all6435
But some of these differences are not unusual in an election year, and merely reflect the differences between the two parties. In September 1996, when Bill Clinton was running for re-election, 7 in 10 Republicans felt the country was on the wrong track, while two thirds of Democrats felt it was headed in the right direction. However also in that year, voters? evaluations of the economy were uniformly positive and there was little concern about job loss, regardless of partisanship.

Voters also indicate some frustration with this partisanship. By a large margin, voters would like to see more compromise from their elected officials on both sides of the aisle to get things done. 83% think the parties should compromise to get things done, while only 12% think they ought to stick to their principles.

SHOULD THE PARTIES?

AllRepsDemsInds
Compromise83%76%87%86%
Stick to principles1218108

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.



This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1053 adults, interviewed by telephone June 23-27, 2004. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample. Error for subgroups may be higher.
  • Chris Hawke

Comments

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.