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The Divide Between Republican And Democratic Voters On Major Issues

President Obama and GOP congressional leaders will have to work together to pass new laws after Republicans take over the Senate and extend their dominance in the House in two months. But just what can they agree upon?

Voters on Tuesday didn’t provide much hope for interparty cooperation. In exit polls, Democratic and Republican voters disagreed sharply on just about every issue they were asked about. Their one point of agreement amid a half-dozen splits was that they approved of U.S. military action against Islamic State. Republicans have indicated they’ll push Obama for a more forceful strategy in Iraq.

On other issues, Democratic and Republican voters in House races were far apart. Their next closest point of agreement was on legalization of marijuana, and they really didn’t agree at all. Twice as many Democrats favored legalization in their state as didn’t (64 percent to 32 percent) while Republicans opposed legalization by nearly the same margin (61 percent to 36 percent). Voters for the two parties differed even more on the 2010 health care reform, on same-sex marriage legalization, on offering legal status to illegal immigrants working in the U.S., on abortion law and on global warming.


The exit polls didn’t ask specifically about many other issues where the parties could find agreement. And party leaders could cooperate on issues their voters disagree on.

Fans of the proverbial cooperation across the aisle also can take heart that at least the two parties’ voters don’t seem to have moved further apart since 2012. Compared to that year, they disagree a little less on health care reform and same-sex marriage, and a little more on immigration.


Methodology note: I estimated agreement between the parties on each issue by calculating the percentage of Democrats and Republicans on either side of the issue, calculating the net percentage for each party — such as the percentage who said “yes” minus the share who said “no” — and then subtracting those two net percentages. For health care in 2014, I didn’t include a third option, labeling the law “about right.” Voters were sorted by party in 2014 based on the candidate they supported in House races. In 2012, they were sorted by their presidential vote. That matches closely their House vote: 93 percent of Obama voters in 2012 voted for a Democrat that year in the House, while 92 percent of Mitt Romney voters voted for a House Republican candidate.

Carl Bialik was FiveThirtyEight’s lead writer for news.