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Study: Government’s Influence On Economy Divides Parties Most

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The issue of the role of government on the economy is the most dividing force between the Republican and Democratic parties. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

The issue of the role of government on the economy is the most dividing force between the Republican and Democratic parties. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – The gap in values held by the Republican and Democratic parties has nearly doubled since 1987, and the divide is widest regarding the influence of government on the economy.

Partisanship along party lines will be the most polarized that it’s ever been when voters head to the polls this November. According to a Pew Research Center study that has been tracked since 1987, the majority of the widening gap in values has occurred during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

In this time period, both parties’ bases have often been critical of their parties for not standing up for their traditional positions. Currently, 71 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of Democrats say their parties have not done a good job in this regard.

In recent years, both parties have become smaller and more ideologically homogeneous. Among Republicans, self-described “conservatives” continue to outnumber moderates by about two-to-one. And there are now as many self-described “liberal” Democrats as moderate Democrats.

In this year’s election, the largest divides between committed supporters of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are over the scope and role of government in the economic realm.

There are partisan differences of 35 points or more in opinions about the government’s responsibility to care for the poor, whether the government should help more needy people if it means adding to the debt and whether the government should guarantee all citizens enough to eat and a place to sleep.

Just as past studies have shown, a substantial majority of Americans agree that “the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.”

Just 40 percent of Republicans agree that “it is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves,” down 18 points since 2007. In three surveys during the George W. Bush administration, no fewer than half of Republicans said the government had a responsibility to care for those unable to care for themselves. In 1987, during the Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62 percent expressed this view.

Swing voters make up about a quarter of all registered voters, and are pressured from both sides. Their attitudes on the social safety net and immigration are somewhat closer to those of Romney supporters, while they tilt closer to Obama supporters in opinions about labor unions and some social issues.

There are no indications of increasing hostility toward the rich and successful. And there are no signs that lower-income people have become more cynical about an individual’s power to control their destiny or the value of hard work.

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