Deeply divided nation. Or are we? We have it completely wrong

There are a few major points that a strong majority of Americans agree on, says Mercury Analytics’ Ron Howard.

(Photo credit: Getty Images).

Pick up the newspaper, watch the news on television or scroll through Twitter or Facebook, and you might reasonably conclude that as a country, we are in quicksand — standing still, incapable of finding common, stable ground and, worse, sinking fast. As the midterm elections demonstrated, it appears that we are hopelessly divided as a nation and seemingly nothing can be done about it.

But what if you’re wrong? What if we're all wrong? 

Turns out, we are all wrong. A national poll of 1,108 voters conducted by Mercury Analytics directly following the midterm elections shows that the vast majority of registered voters, regardless of party affiliation, actually agree on the one thing that could genuinely begin to unite us as a country. That one thing could fuel a new American renaissance, providing a way forward on virtually every other issue we face. The problem is that the American people don’t know that we all share this profoundly important belief and, until they do, we will remain right where we are: stuck in neutral.

Our research shows that 73% of registered voters of all parties believe the divisions between Republicans and Democrats are bad for America and indicate a desire for both parties to work together again to solve our problems. Moreover, 93% of registered voters — including Republicans, Democrats and independents — say they are more likely to support candidates who promise to act respectfully toward one another and work toward compromise on difficult issues as a way forward. Yet ask Republicans if they think Democrats would support such a candidate, or ask Democrats if they think Republicans would, and our research shows the majority of people in both parties say no. In other words, we want politicians to work together and compromise; we want political discourse to be civil, but the other side? They don’t. The result of this disconnect? Stagnation and a divided nation.

The fact is, whether Democrat, Republican or independent, 86% of voters say it is important to them that elected officials act respectfully toward one another and work cooperatively to solve the challenges we face. Yet 62% of voters do not believe that Congress is delivering on this ideal and 58% of Republicans and 61% of Democrats think the very people elected to represent us are fueling the divide. But why? How is it we want Congress to work together yet those who we voted in to represent us won’t even reach across the aisle?   

And while Congress may receive much of the blame for stoking the divide, 77% of Republicans and 62% of Democrats believe the No. 1 culprit driving Republicans and Democrats to feel so angry with one another is the news channels, even more so than social media.

The truth is, everyone — Democrats, Republicans and independents — wants to work together because they know that only by finding common ground can we build a launch pad to a better future. They just don’t know they all want the same thing. But it is the one thing we agree on, and, as it happens, the thing that if the media focused on, and if acted on by those who represent us, would make the greatest difference of all. 

We're not naïve. We know that people disagree, and disagree vehemently, about a lot of issues. Years of mistrust won’t be easily forgotten. Behaviors previously unheard of have been normalized. And no matter what happens, not everyone will always be satisfied with every outcome. But if we believe that by working together and finding compromise we can move forward as a nation, most people will be satisfied, and that’s the point. That’s what compromise is. That’s how progress is made. Sometimes incrementally, sometimes in great leaps. But always together. 

Ron Howard is CEO of research technology firm Mercury Analytics.

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