Political News

Yes, things are worse now than ever before

Posted January 21, 2020 6:31 p.m. EST

— President Donald Trump didn't create our deep political polarization. But he now runs a country divided more deeply than ever before by our partisan differences.

According to Gallup, the 82-point partisan gap between Republican approval of the job Trump is doing (89%) and Democratic approval (7%) is the largest in the 74-year history of the poll. That gap breaks the previous record of 79 points that Trump set in his second year in office, in 2018. (Trump's first year in office, 2017, was the sixth most partisan in history.)

As I said, though: This is not a phenomenon invented by or during the Trump presidency.

The 10 most partisan years in history have all occurred in the last 16 years, as measured by Gallup. Those 10 years include years from the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama as well as Trump.

"There have always been partisan gaps in ratings of president, just not to the degree seen over the past two decades," wrote Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones in an analysis of the data.

How far have we fallen? Consider this: Four post-World War II presidents -- Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and George H.W. Bush -- averaged more than 40% approval ratings from the opposition side.

When did things turn? Interestingly timed question! The impeachment of Bill Clinton 21 years ago is broadly cited as the moment our current polarization problem began.

Two decades later, we have another impeachment trial -- one that has already gotten off to a far more partisan start (the two sides can't even agree on a set of rules to begin the trial) than it did in 1999.

The Point: It's both facile and selfish to assume that whatever is happening to you -- or us -- is something that has never before happened in history. In the case of our current polarization, however, we are truly living in historic times. And not the good kind.

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