Brand new polling commissioned for HOPE not hate’s Fear & HOPE project reveals the deep divisions which are driving polarisation in modern America.
THE UNITED STATES has long been a deeply divided and polarised country, with seemingly little room for common ground or even willingness to compromise.
However, the country under Donald Trump’s Presidency has seen this descend to a new level.
With the election only days away and Trump trailing badly in the polls, the question is whether the country can hold together in the event of his possible defeat.
Our polling finds widespread pessimism, division and demoralisation across American society. Two-thirds of people think that things are now worse for America than they were five years ago and 68% believe the country is going in the wrong direction.
Women are more pessimistic than men, with 72% feeling that things are worse now for America than they were five years ago. For men, the figure is 60%. Just over half (54%) think things are worse for themselves and their families than five years ago, with 46% of men agreeing the same.
Only 29% of women think that the country is going in the right direction, with 71% thinking the opposite. Among men it is 37% and 63% respectively.
With these differences, it is probably no great surprise that far fewer women say that they plan to vote for Donald Trump in the forthcoming elections.
Unsurprisingly, political allegiances are a key determiner in how people feel about the state of the country. Three-quarters of people who plan to vote for Donald Trump think things are better for themselves and their families, while 61% think the country is in a better place.
Conversely, only 38% of Biden supporters think they are better off than five years ago and 84% think things are worse for the country.
In 2016 a key voting bloc for Trump were voters with no or few educational qualifications. In what might be a sign that he has lost support from this group, more think that they and the country are in a worse position than voters with degrees.
While Trump is losing ground among voters without degrees and suburban women, it appears that he is set to do better among African American voters than he did in 2016. This might be partly explained by the fact that more African Americans think things are better for themselves and their families than they were five years ago than the population as a whole.
Democracy is fragile
The pessimism about the state of the country has extended to people’s attitudes towards the health of democracy, with 70% believing that “the political system does not work well” and 53% not satisfied with the way democracy is working in America.
As mentioned earlier, women have more negative views than men, but perhaps surprisingly, African Americans are more satisfied with democracy than white Americans and Latinos.
Again, attitudes towards democracy fall along political allegiance lines. Opinion among Trump voters as to whether the political system works is evenly divided, but the same cannot be said of Biden supporters. Four out of five Biden voters say that the political system is not working well and 65% say that they are not satisfied with the way democracy is working in America.
By contrast, 67% of Trump voters are satisfied with how democracy is working.
Whether Trump supporters will be so enthusiastic about the state of democracy in America if their candidate loses remains to be seen.
Being handled poorly
Covid-19 is obviously the key issue facing the United States at the moment and it is unquestionably the dominant issue of the election.
With over eight million people infected and 225,000+ deaths, Donald Trump’s handling of Covid-19 and the impact it is having on the economy have switched many voters away from him. And with the number of people becoming infected rising sharply and with 100,000 new cases a day expected by 3rd November, it seems set to dominate the final week of the election.
Our polling highlights the problems Donald Trump has got. Almost two thirds of people think that he has not handled the Covid-19 pandemic well, and 55% think Covid-19 has exposed great inequality in American society.
However, these figures disguise clear differences in opinion by race. Among white Americans, the views are far more balanced, with 45% believing Trump has handled the pandemic well and 55% thinking he has not. Among minority groups opinions are far starker. Three-quarters of African Americans think Trump has handled the pandemic badly, as do 72% of Latinos.
Two-thirds of African Americans agree that Covid-19 has exposed great inequality in American society, with just 10% disagreeing. The figures for Latinos are 57% and 15% respectively, and for white Americans 53% and 19%.
Trump supporters, however, appear pleased with the way their candidate has handled the pandemic, with 80% thinking he has done well and just 20% thinking he has handled it badly. By comparison, 91% of Biden supporters think Trump has handled the pandemic badly.
In a sign that independents and undecided voters are likely to break for Biden, the vast majority think Trump has handled Covid-19 badly. Two-thirds of those who declared themselves undecideds thought this way, as did 65% of those who identify themselves as Independents.
The attitude of seniors is also telling. In 2016 Donald Trump won 53% of the vote of over-65s, which was really significant given that they make up 27% of those who voted. Given the importance of this age group and the fact that they have been so adversely affected by Covid-19, it is highly significant that 60% think that Trump has handled the pandemic badly and probably goes some way to explaining why Biden is now leading among seniors by 9%.
Antipathy to vaccinations
At some stage in the very near future, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will give its approval for one or more of the numerous Covid-19 vaccinations that are currently being developed. The question is: will Americans take it?
Our polling suggests that only a third of Americans currently say they would, with another 23% saying they probably would. With most scientists suggesting that at least 65% of people will need to take a vaccine for it to be successful across the population, there is still a lot of work to do.
Just over one in five Americans say that they currently minded to refuse to take a vaccine, with 14% suggesting that they definitely would not and another 7% probably not. The remaining 24% of people say that they are unsure or prefer not to say.
Interestingly, men appear far more willing to take a vaccine than women, with 40% of men saying they would strongly agree to have a vaccine, compared to 27% of women. Conversely, 18% of women say that they would strongly disagree with taking a vaccine, double the figure for men.
Political allegiance plays a role here, with one in five Trump supporters strongly opposed to a vaccine.
In one of our follow up polls, we found opposition to a vaccine even higher at 30%, with opposition strongest amongst 25-34 year olds (39%).
We also asked a supplementary question to try to understand why people were resistant to taking a vaccine. A quarter of those who said they were opposed to taking a vaccine or were unsure claimed that “there is malicious intent behind those who want us to take the vaccine”, while 14% said that they were happy to let the disease take its natural cause. One in 12 said that they just didn’t like needles, while 6% doubted that Covid-19 was a credible health risk.
Young people were much more likely to believe that there was malicious intent involved, with 35% of 18-24 year olds citing it as their reason for not having a vaccine. Even more worryingly, 43% of African Americans and 36% of Latinos cited malicious intent, compared to 19% of white Americans and 10% of Asian Americans.
With such views towards taking a vaccine, it is perhaps not surprising that a quarter of Americans believe that a Covid-19 vaccine will be used maliciously to infect people with poison. Just 51% believe this to be a false statement.
While 20% of white Americans believe that a vaccine will be used to inject people with poison, the figure is higher among African Americans (37%) and Latinos (26%).
Among Trump voters the figure is 30%, with 44% disagreeing, whilst among Biden supporters the figures are 19% and 60% respectively.
Black Lives Matter
The other key event of 2020 has been the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests. Sadly, in a highly polarised society, and against the backdrop of the election campaign, opinion in the United States has been deeply divided over the killing.
Our polling shows that there is widespread support for Black Lives Matters and concerns about racism in US society, though there are clear divisions on party affiliation. Almost 60% of people sympathise with the BLM protests, while 42% do not. Three quarters of people (74%) believe that systemic racism exists in US society and 61% the BLM movement has rightly raised concern over police mistreatment of black people.
Women are marginally more sympathetic to the BLM protests than men, and young people more than older people, though all age groups are more sympathetic than not, with the exception of 55-64 year olds where the split is 49/51.
Some might be surprised to learn that a quarter of African Americans and 34% of Latinos do not sympathise with the BLM protests, just as 15% and 19% respectively do not believe that systemic racism exists.
There is deep pessimism over the state of race relations in the country, with 42% believing they are good and 58% bad. Interestingly, 62% of those who say they will vote for Donald Trump think race relations are good, whereas 73% of Biden supporters say the opposite.
Once again, undecideds and independents view racial issues in the U.S. similarly to Biden supporters, rather than Trump supporters. Of the latter group, only half think that systemic racism exists and 68% think that white people are discriminated against as much as people of colour. While two thirds of Biden supporters think that the BLM protests “are overwhelmingly peaceful”, 79% of Trump supporters believe they are not.
The general support for the BLM protests disguises deep fault lines over race and racism in U.S. society. A majority of people do not believe that the BLM protests have been peaceful, which probably reflects the political and media narrative of the last few months.
Three out of five white Americans think the BLM protests have not been peaceful, while 30% of African Americans and 49% of Latinos think the same.
There is a big urban/rural divide here, with 56% of those living in completely urban areas believing the protests are overwhelmingly peaceful, while 69% of those in completely rural areas thinking the protests are not peaceful.
Once again, there is a big gap depending on political allegiance, with 79% of Trump supporters viewing them as not peaceful and 67% of Democrats believing they are.
More depressingly, 43% of people think white people are discriminated against as much as people of colour, with 57% believing this is not the case. Somewhat surprisingly, 38% of African Americans and 35% of Latinos think that white people face as much discrimination, as do 47% of white Americans.
Two-thirds of Trump supporters agree that white people face as much discrimination as people of colour, whereas 76% of Biden supporters think they do not.
A third of Americans (31%) also think that white people “do not have any real advantages over others”, with 53% believing they still do. Among African Americans and Latinos these figures are 22% and 64%, and 28% and 58%, respectively.
Trump voters are split on this question, with 46% believing that whites no longer have an advantage and 37% believing they do. The views of Biden supporters are more clear cut, with 19% believing whites have no advantage over 69% who do.
There is surprising agreement between different racial groups on whether the police are more violent to African Americans. The 40% of white Americans who think they are is not much different from the 42% of African Americans who think the same.
The only significant split is along political lines, with only 20% of Trump supporters thinking police are more violent to African Americans and 70% believing they are treated the same. Among Biden supporters the figures are 59% and 30% respectively.
Political extremism is deeply concerning for Americans, though Republicans are most worried about the threat posed by the radical left, while Democrats are worried about the threat from militias and white supremacist groups.
When given a stark choice about who posed the greatest threat, 44% of people said armed militias and white supremacist groups and 28% said the radical left. The contrast between the two was even greater for young people and narrower for those over 65, though they too thought the far right was the greater threat.
Trump supporters, however, by a margin of two-and-a-half to one, thought the radical left posed the greater threat to American society – which is probably totally unsurprising given the way Trump and his close supporters have largely ignored violence from white supremacist groups, while openly calling Antifa a terrorist organisation.
White Americans were more equally balanced, with 38% saying the militias and white supremacy pose the greatest threat, and 34% selecting the radical left. Among African Americans, though, there was a large difference, with 60% choosing the far right and 14% the far left.
We also asked people about whether they had negative or positive views towards militias and anti-fascists, with predictably partisan responses. Four out of 10 Trump voters had positive views towards militias, while 63% had negative views of anti-fascists. Conversely, 73% of Biden supporters had a negative view of militias, while opinion towards anti-fascists was evenly split.
Our polling shows that there is depressingly high awareness and support for conspiracy theories among a large section of US society.
Almost four in 10 people have read an article or seen a video in the last six months about ‘elites in Hollywood, government, the media and other powerful positions are secretly engaging in large scale child trafficking and abuse’, while a third of people have also heard of stories about a global elite using Covid-19 to reshape the world order and that: ‘Covid-19 has been intentionally released as part of a “depopulation” plan orchestrated by the UN or New World Order’.
Young people in particular are far more likely to have heard of these conspiracies, which is perhaps unsurprising given that they use the social media platforms on which these are spread more regularly than older people.
More worrying, though, is the numbers of people who believe these conspiracies. A third of Americans (32%) think it is definitely or probably true that: ‘Elites in Hollywood, government, the media and other powerful positions are secretly engaging in large scale child trafficking and abuse’, with 38% of Americans believing it is not true. One in five believe: ’Covid-19 has been intentionally released as part of a “depopulation” plan orchestrated by the UN or New World Order’, while 15% think that ‘a Covid-19 vaccine will be used maliciously to infect people with poison’.
African-Americans and young people believe in these conspiracies more than any one racial group.
We asked respondents across all of our waves of polling whether they supported or opposed QAnon, the fast-growing conspiracy movement that believes there is an international cabal of Democrats, Hollywood stars and financiers who are involved in the trafficking and abuse of children.
Using our MRP data analysis we found that 10% of Americans claim they support QAnon and its ideas, with 4.6% identifying themselves as “strong supporters” and 5.4% “soft supporters”. Worryingly, a large majority (82%) of strong QAnon supporters think using violence is justified to defend something they believe in.
Young people and those with degrees are more likely to support QAnon than older people, as do those without educational qualifications. Perhaps surprisingly for some, more African Americans believe in QAnon than white Americans.
More Latinos in Florida believe in QAnon, and indeed many of the other related conspiracy theories, than Latinos generally, though this probably reflects the more right-wing and anti-communist nature of the Latino community there.
Three-in-five strong QAnon supporters say that they plan to vote for Donald Trump in the forthcoming Presidential elections, with just 29% backing Biden. One-in-five Trump supporters identify with QAnon, and taken together as a strong voting bloc this clearly explains why Trump is unwilling to distance himself from the conspiracy. Indeed, as we explore later in this magazine, he and his sons have actively promoted QAnon conspiracies.
A majority of voters (58%) think President Trump is a divisive and dangerous leader who is damaging America, while almost the same number (57%) think Trump is a racist. Women are more likely to view Trump negatively than men, as do young people and those who live in urban areas compared to those who live rurally.
The split is unsurprisingly stark among political allegiances, with 92% of Trump voters believing he is a strong leader and 83% denying he is a racist. Whether the 17% of Trump supporters who do view him as racist are proud about it or are willing to vote for him despite this is unclear.
For Biden supporters, 90% think he is both dangerous and divisive and a racist.
The division along racial lines is also interesting. Three in 10 African Americans and Latinos view Trump as a strong leader who is ‘making America great again’, while 24% and 32% respectively do not consider him a racist.
Young people, probably predictably, view Trump as dangerous and divisive and a racist more than older voters. However, there is no majority in any single age group in believing that Trump is not a racist.
The same cannot be said for those who live in rural areas, with 59% of those in completely rural areas and 55% of those living in mainly rural areas believing Trump is not a racist.
AMERICA AND THE WORLD
We asked people their views on which country posed the biggest threat to human rights and democracy in the world today, and which country posed the biggest threat to peace in the world; the answers varied greatly depending on which presidential candidate the respondent was supporting.
Almost half of Trump voters (45%) said that China posed the biggest threat to human rights and democracy, way ahead of North Korea, which was in second place with 14%. Interestingly, Russia lagged well behind with just 8%.
Biden voters, on the other hand, cited Russia (27%), just ahead of China (20%) and the USA (18%). Almost a third of Green Party voters placed the USA as the biggest threat with 30%, well ahead of Russia and North Korea, which both came in with 10%.
A third of African American respondents thought the USA posed the biggest threat to human rights and democracy, compared to just 12% of white Americans and 18% of Latinos.
The pattern was similar when respondents were asked which country posed the biggest threat to peace in the world. Two in five Trump voters cited China, well ahead of North Korea (17%) and Iran (13%). Biden supporters, meanwhile, picked Russia (27%), North Korea (21%) and the USA (18%).
Just under a third of African Americans (29%) listed the USA as the country which posed the biggest threat to world peace, compared to 20% of Latinos and just 11% of white Americans.
Free and fair elections?
The divisions and pessimism in US society are set to come to a head on 3rd November as the country votes for its next President. All the currently polling predicts that Joe Biden has a commanding lead over Donald Trump, but given the surprise of 2016, coupled with the electoral college voting system, no-one is taking victory for granted.
While in any normal election a transfer of power would be totally uncontentious, the same cannot be said for the 2020 U.S. elections. Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to say whether he will accept the result and he, and his supporters, have been purposefully talking up vote rigging and electoral fraud as a means to contest any loss.
This narrative has seeped through to the general public, with only 50% of people thinking that the forthcoming elections will be free and fair, with 26% disagreeing and the remainder unsure. Men are more confident than woman, African Americans are more confident than white Americans and Trump supporters marginally more confident than Biden’s supporters.
Suspicion towards the behaviour and intent of one’s political opponents is strong, with Republican voters overwhelmingly thinking that the Democrats are pushing the use of mail-in voting to “rig the elections”, while Democrats overwhelmingly think that Republicans are using voter suppression to stop certain groups from voting.
Among society as a whole, 47% of people think that there is likely to be election fraud significant enough to change the result of the election. What people mean by election fraud, and who are the main instigators might be, very much depend on their political viewpoint.
Just over half of African Americans think there could be significant electoral fraud, with only 16% disagreeing, but by some margin they are more likely to think that it will be Republicans, because they are making it harder for some people to vote.
Over 70% of Biden supporters think the Republicans are gerrymandering, compared to just 22% of Republicans. Conversely, 72% of Trump supporters think the Democrats are wanting to expand voting by mail so they can steal the election.
However, there is strong support for people being given the option to vote by mail given Covid-19, with 61% agreeing and just 18% disagreeing. Even among those who plan to vote for Trump there are more people happy with an option to vote by mail than those who are not.
The key question, though, is what happens if Trump loses and if the margin of defeat is not significant. It would appear that there is strong support from half of Trump voters for him to refuse to accept defeat and to contest the election.
While 29% of people overall think it is perfectly acceptable for Trump to refuse to accept the election results if he loses by a small margin, this rises to 50% of those intending to vote for him.
It would be easy to dismiss this support for Trump as bravado which might soon fade away in the event of a loss. That might be the case, but then again Trump is highly unpredictable and his followers are angry and strongly opposed to the political mainstream.
As we shall now see, their determination to back their leader with their own views on democracy and violence should be a major cause for concern.
Democracy and authoritarianism
We mentioned that democracy in the United States is fragile, with deep distrust of its institutions and a strong desire for authoritarianism among a quarter of the population. A large 70% of respondents believe the political system is not working well, with 53% not satisfied with the way democracy is working.
More worryingly than the pessimism of many about the state of American democracy is the attractiveness of authoritarian ideas. Almost a quarter of Americans believe it is more important for an elected official to achieve their political goals – even if it means disregarding the democratic process.
Two-out-of-five young people believe this, as do 37% of African Americans.
Almost a third of people (30%) think that having ‘a strong and decisive leader who does not have to bother with elections’ is more preferable to ‘having liberal democracy with regular elections and a multiparty system’.
This rises to over a third of those intending to vote for Donald Trump, compared to 19% of Biden supporters. Women believe in this more than men, as do African Americans over white Americans.
A depressingly high number of Americans saw their freedoms and liberties as transactional, with between a quarter and a third of Americans saying that they would be willing to trade some of their human rights and freedoms for a better financial situation (25%). Likewise, 30% said that they would be willing to trade some of their human rights and freedoms for greater security and almost the same number for the preservation of their country’s traditional values.
Amongst Trump supporters, this latter figure rises to 39%.
Age was a key factor, with older people far less willing to trade their human rights and freedoms than young people. One can only hope that as people grow up they begin to value the core tenants of democracy – even if it is imperfect.
However, African Americans were once again less tied to democracy than white Americans.
Perhaps the best reflection of the pessimism griping many Americans at the moment is the 73% who say they are worried about the political divisions that exist in society and the 40% who think the country is heading for civil war. This gloomy view transcends political, ethnic and age groups.
Three-quarters of Biden and Trump supporters are worried about the political divisions, while 41% of Biden supporters and 45% of Trump supporters fear the country is heading for civil war.
While the vast majority of people who share these concerns do so out of pessimism and fear, there are clearly some in American society who are itching for a clash. The Black Lives Matter protests have brought armed militias and white supremacist groups out onto the street and in the last fortnight we have learnt of two far-right terrorist plots against leading Democrat politicians.
In addition to the armed militias and white supremacist groups, we should also be concerned about the hard core QAnon supporters, who see their mission intrinsically linked to Donald Trump’s political fortunes. With 81% of strong QAnon supporters believing that the country is heading for civil war and 73% believing that violence can “sometimes be necessary to defend something you strongly believe in”, we should be rightly concerned as to how these people will react if Trump refuses to accept defeat.
The election brings to a head the dangerous mix of political polarisation, alienation and anger in US society. With attitudes towards violence at dangerously high levels and President who appears only too willing to incite and divide, there is every reason to believe that the post-election landscape will be volatile, angry and potentially very dangerous.
Young people (18-24 year olds) in the United States are generally more liberal and open-minded than older people, but the difference is not as stark as it is in the UK.
Young people in the US are slightly more pessimistic and unhappy with the state of their lives than their counterparts in the UK. They do, however, have more positive feelings towards immigrants and police officers, while considerably more negative feelings towards the LGBT community.
Opinions towards the political system are evenly divided, with 53% saying they are satisfied with how democracy is working and 47% saying they are dissatisfied.
However, there is far less support for the concept of democracy than among older age groups, with 39% preferring “having a strong and decisive leader who does not have to bother with parliament or elections” over “having liberal democracy with regular elections and a multiparty system.”
Young people are also more willing to trade their freedoms for financial and cultural security than older generations.
They have a much more negative view of their country than older generations, too, with 32% believing that the US poses the biggest threat to human rights and democracy in the world, compared to 5% for over 65s.
Similarly, 28% think the US poses the biggest threat to peace in the world, compared to just 5% of seniors.
Meanwhile, 42% of young people say that they plan to vote for Joe Biden, with just 15% opting for Donald Trump and 10% for the Green candidate. However, 14% say that they are still undecided, the highest of any age group, and one in five say that they do not plan to vote.
Where there is a very stark difference in attitudes between generations is around conspiracy theories. Young people are much more likely to have heard of, and believe in, conspiracies than older age groups. Half of young people believe that “elites in Hollywood, government, the media and other powerful positions are secretly engaged in large scale child trafficking and abuse”, compared to just 19% of over 65s.
Almost two in five young people (38%) think that the statement: “Covid-19 has been intentionally released as part of a “depopulation” plan orchestrated by the UN or New World Order” is definitely or probably true. This compares to 14% of those over 65. Likewise, a third of young people believe that “a Covid-19 vaccine will be used maliciously to infect people with poison” compared to just 8% of seniors.
|Over the last few weeks HOPE not hate has polled 15,500 Americans on a whole range of political, cultural and attitudinal issues to discover how they see the world and their place within it.|
We initially conducted a 4,000 national poll of 80 questions, with a 1,000 over-sample in Pennsylvania and a 500 over-sample in Oregon. To build up the sample size necessary for an MRP analysis (multilevel regression with poststratification), we followed this up with a further 4,000 national poll on a more limited number of questions and then a third wave of a 6,000 sample poll, consisting of 2,000 people nationally and then another 2,000 from each of Florida and Pennsylvania.
MRP is a statistical technique for estimating public opinion in small geographic areas or sub-groups using national opinion surveys and is considered more accurate and more granular than traditional polling.
Our data partners Hanbury Strategy and FocalData then applied a series of data analytical tools to help us better understand the results and the intersectionality of opinion.
Hanbury Strategy carried out a segmentation project and built an online attitudinal portal which can be explored using different demographic variables, while FocalData used MRP analysis to help us more accurately estimate opinion down to a state and even county level.
Polling: Thanks to FocalData and Hanbury Strategy