The February 2012 edition of Esquire Magazine contains a feature called “79 Things We Can All Agree On” which ranges from the assertion we were better off during Bill Clinton’s presidency (#1) to things are not so bad now (#79). Regardless of your politics, the list is one part humor and one part intentional controversy. We probably all do agree with some of the items (#40 The National Parks) but others are easy to debate (#41 Mark Wahlberg is the man).
Perhaps due to my analytics background, I particularly enjoyed There is nothing we all agree on (#70) written by political pollster and strategist Joel Benenson. Joel claims the diversity of the United States makes it surprising that we get close to unanimous agreement on any issue. In his words:
And why should we? Americans live in cities with more than eight million people (New York) and towns with as few as thirteen (Valley City, Illinois). Some of our states are so densely populated that as few as 6 percent live in rural areas (New Jersey), while others have more than 50 percent in rural areas (Mississippi). While the vast majority of households speak only English at home, one in five speaks another language, including 2.6 million homes in which Chinese is spoken and 150,000 in which Yiddish is spoken.
But somehow we do agree: from rejection of extramarital affairs to belief in the land of opportunity, there is a wide range of core beliefs that at least 85% of Americans agree with. These generate little debate and “are not likely to be shaken, even by dramatic, sudden events.” On the other hand, there are many other viewpoints held by at least 70% of the population which can still cause fierce debate from a vocal minority.
Despite all of this agreement, we are a politically-divided country. In the last six elections, only George Bush Sr and Barack Obama garnered 53% of the popular vote. As Joel points out, “more striking is that in only one of the four elections did the winner break 50%, with President Bush barely doing it when he was reelected with 50.7% in 2004.”
Even if we have the same beliefs, apparently there is nothing we can all agree on.
I have to disagree, clearly!
@Timo can’t we just agree to disagree? 😉
Along the same lines, there’s a great article from Harvard Business Review that examines the deepening divide in American politics you mention. It cites recent research that indicates, based on voting patterns, that there is basically no ideological overlap between Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Which is a little problematic when it comes to getting big things done in difficult times.