End the duopoly

Divided we fall? Americans see our angry political debate as ‘a big problem’

Americans are united on this: They are sick and tired of being so divided.

The divisive national debate over just about everything has convinced many that the country is heading in the wrong direction even as their own lives are going well, the inaugural Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll finds.

By overwhelming margins, those surveyed said national leaders, social media and the news media have exacerbated and exaggerated those divisions, sometimes for their own benefit and to the detriment of ordinary people.

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More than nine of 10 – about as close to unanimity as a national poll usually reaches – said it’s important for the United States to try to reduce that divisiveness. Figuring out how to have a constructive conversation with folks on the other side would be a good start, most said.

“The hardest thing with the climate in the government is, you turn on the news, they can’t even sit down and have a discussion; they can’t work out anything,” said Lynn Andino, 53, a nurse and political independent from New Rochelle, in the New York City suburbs. “They storm out; this one said that; it’s tit-for-tat; I’m going to throw mud at you; you’re going to throw that mud back. It’s like they can’t even work on anything.”

The findings from the Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll, and focus groups convened in New Rochelle, Cincinnati and Jackson, Mississippi, launch an election-year project by USA TODAY and Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research organization. The Hidden Common Ground initiative will explore areas of agreement on major issues facing the nation and also spotlight how local communities have worked across divisions to solve problems.

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