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Do Republican, Democratic divisions go deeper than politics?

Growing up, there were lots of political arguments at Thanksgiving dinners – that was part of the fun - but it rarely got personal. We found something else to bond over, if only through a shared little nod and side whisper; yes, the turkey’s dry again.

In Washington these days, though, the political often looks personal. The knock on Democrats and Republicans is that they don’t just disagree, they act like they’re from different planets, or at least conceptually different countries. You know the tropes: red-staters versus blue, urbanites versus rural, and so forth.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, when many Americans will again sit down no matter their politics, we thought it a good time to ask regular Democratic and Republican voters to look across the divide and tell us what think of each other as people -- Specifically, whether their differences stopped at politics, or whether they think different party labels signal different values that extend beyond politics, too.

Here’s what we found in the latest CBS News poll. A majority 60 percent of Democrats said they thought of Republicans as people who did share their other values and goals outside of politics; they just disagreed on politics.

And a similar number of Republicans, 58 percent, said Democrats shared other values and goals with them, too; the disagreements were just political.

chart 1 - Democrats.JPG
chart 2 - republicans.JPG

But don’t pass the stuffing just yet; this isn’t entirely a feel-good moment. Some folks really do see more personal differences in partisan labels: some in each camp said political differences did mean the other side doesn’t share broader values or goals in life, either. Those who don’t expect shared values beyond politics tend to be the strongest ideologues, perhaps unsurprisingly; more inclined to call themselves either “very” conservative or “very” liberal instead of moderate, or just somewhat, ideological.

We might imagine those who don’t see commonalities are part of the most polarized part of the nation, or at least, the quickest to blend the political and personal (which of course doesn’t help getting along, as anyone arguing anything can probably attest.) Still, overall they don’t make up that much of the country. If we separate out all the partisans who do see commonalities, plus the independents, and those who aren’t sure, we’d be left with only one-fifth of the nation that is both itself partisan, and thinks the other side doesn’t share much.

chart 3 - whole partisans.JPG

If we stretch these measures a little farther, it then might seem too facile when we say “the country” is polarized. This points more to the idea, as many others have shown, that not all partisans think of themselves as worlds apart, at least not outside the political sphere. (There is, for sure, much debate on this and many more complex measures of polarization, or on just how wide that political sphere extends, which is arguably very wide these days. It also matters whether you consider it in terms of peoples’ group-versus-group perceptions, in this vein, or as external comparisons on policy preferences.)

Of course, it sometimes seems like the most ideological voters have outsized influence on politics, and while that’s a longer story, it is often true – more firmly-held beliefs can be associated with higher voting rates, including in primaries and smaller-turnout elections – and also giving more money or contributing in some form to political movements when possible. It’s not a lot different, in that regard, than seeing the hard-core fans out at the stadium for the game, even when it’s freezing. The passionate show up.

We last asked at these same questions back in 2007, too, and the numbers were a little higher, with more people thinking politics extended into other values and goals. In both cases we tried to ask the questions in non-election years, to minimize the heightened atmosphere of a campaign when divisions might be heightened. It’s hard to say that two measures, all these years apart, is much to make a trend line out of, but maybe it’s at least some sign things have improved. Or, maybe we’re just headed toward the holidays.

All of which may feel about right if you happen to sit down at a table with Democrats, Republicans and everything in between. Yes, there might be some people with whom you feel you’ve little in common - though let’s face it, there are plenty of non-political reasons that may be true, too - but chances are you’ll find something to agree on. Here's hoping that you do, that your turkey is juicy, and that you have a Happy Thanksgiving.

And that none of the cooks in my family read this.

Jennifer De Pinto contributed to this report.

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