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Is America too polarized? What more than 90% of Americans really want their leaders to do

Ninety-three percent of American voters believe it is important for our leaders to focus on things that bring people together.

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In this July 16, 2019, file photo, an American flag flies on the Capitol Dome in Washington.

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

When 2020 began, no one could have predicted the enormous changes that would sweep through our nation and the world. It’s hard to find new ways the world turned upside down because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, lockdowns and the resulting economic disruption. As if that wasn’t enough, the nation also had to deal with the killing of George Floyd, peaceful protests against racial injustice and riots plaguing American cities. 

These events have made the presidential election campaign even more polarizing than usual. It sometimes seems as if there’s nothing Americans can agree upon.

However, a survey I conducted this past weekend showed that there is something 93% of American voters can agree upon — they believe it is important for our leaders to focus on things that bring people together. That total includes 71% who say it’s very important.

Ninety-six percent (96%) of Democrats believe it’s important to focus on bringing people together. So do 92% of Republicans and 90% of independent voters.

Of course, in the political world, when partisan activists say they want unity, what they really want is for their opponents to agree with them. However, among voters throughout the nation, there’s also strong agreement on a starting point for creating that unity. Seventy-three percent (73%) of voters believe that America’s founding ideals of freedom, equality and self-governance a good foundation for bringing people together and unifying the nation. Just 12% disagree.

As you would expect with numbers like that, support for the founding ideals is found in all segments of our society. Among voters 55 and older, more than 8 out of 10 see those ideals as a good foundation. So do two-thirds of younger voters. The idea that these ideals represent a path to unity is strongly supported by white and non-white voters; suburban, urban and rural voters; conservatives, moderates and liberals; college graduates and those without a degree.

Obviously, support for the founding ideals does not mean we have to agree on everything. There’s plenty of room for disagreement between candidates, parties and voters. In fact, my weekend survey found that there is plenty of disagreement on a number of questions — including a question about the best approach to bringing people together.

When asked which would do more to bring people together, 48% said giving people more individual freedom to establish their own guidelines for social interaction. That’s a fairly traditional American answer. However, 34% took the opposite view and said a better approach to bringing people together would be more government involvement to establish fair rules and guidelines for social interaction.

This question revealed some stark divides in our society. Most voters over 45 said more freedom would be the best way to bring people together. Younger voters were evenly divided.

Republicans overwhelmingly believe more freedom is the better approach and, by a 47% to 29% margin, independents agree. However, a narrow plurality of Democrats leans in the opposite direction. By a 44% to 38% margin, they believe giving government more power to establish fair rules would bring people together.

But before we get too caught up in the things we disagree about, let’s first pause to celebrate the things we agree upon.

I’m sure there are some conservatives who will say that Democrats can’t possibly believe in freedom if they believe giving government more power will bring people together. And I’m also sure there are some liberals who will say that Republicans can’t possibly agree in freedom if they don’t want to establish a fair set of rules.

But before we get too caught up in the things we disagree about, let’s first pause to celebrate the things we agree upon. America’s founding ideals — freedom, equality and self-governance — are worth striving for and celebrating. They are the heritage and purpose we share as a nation. Celebrating those ideals and our commitment to them is the only way to bring Americans together.

Scott Rasmussen is an American political analyst and digital media entrepreneur. He is the author of “The Sun is Still Rising: Politics Has Failed But America Will Not.”