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Ahead of Election, Poll Shows a Nation Divided

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 22:47
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Less than two weeks away from the presidential election, an annual survey released Tuesday shows the nation is sharply divided on nearly every topic, from race relations to what problems the next president should fix first, and a record percentage of people believe the country is on the wrong track – up nearly 20 percentage points since the last race for the White House.

Further, a sizable number of Americans, particularly evangelical Protestants, believe the nation’s best days came during the era of Elvis, the Cold War and legal segregation. Meanwhile, nearly half think the era of Beyonce, Islamic State group and Black Lives Matter is so bad that the country needs an authoritarian leader “who is willing to break some rules in order to set things right.”

Those are the top lines from a new poll, “The Divide Over America’s Future: 1950 or 2050?” a survey of voters conducted last month by PRRI, a public policy think tank.

Examining the attitudes among a broad sample of voters on a range of issues, the survey reveals a country sharply odds with itself, said Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO and co-author of the report, speaking at a Brookings Institute forum.

“It’s not a really stretch to say one thing about this election is it really is a referendum on the future,” said Jones, the author of “The End of White Christian America,” which describes the decline of the religious right voter. “Does the future look bright? Are we going to reach back for something in the past? Or are we going to lean into the cultural and demographic changes that are happening in the country and even celebrate those changes?”

Though the divide may seem obvious to anyone following the bitter presidential race between Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ nominee, and Republican nominee Donald Trump, the winner, Jones says, will face a daunting challenge: unifying a country that’s divided on partisan lines, including political correctness and whether the election itself will be legitimate.

But the study also quantifies unmistakeable trends: White evangelical Protestants fall to the right of nearly every other group, they’re voting for Trump in large numbers and they believe the nation’s rapidly changing economy and culture is leaving them behind.

Among the more significant survey results:

Roughly 72 percent of likely Trump voters believe the American way of life has changed for the worse since the 1950s, but 70 percent of likely Clinton voters say things have changed for the better.

A clear majority of whites – 56 percent – say American society has declined since the 1950s, and class difference sharpens the divide: nearly two-thirds of working-class whites think the country has slipped over the last half-century, while 56 percent of college-educated whites think the nation has improved since the Eisenhower administration.

The racial gap is as wide as ever: About 6 in 10 African-Americans and about 57 percent of Hispanics say American society has improved, but about 8 in 10 blacks and more than 6 in 10 Hispanics disagree with clear majorities of both college-educated (59 percent) and working-class whites (66 percent) that police officers treat everyone the same.

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