The sharp political divide that Americans say they hate may be becoming the new normal.
A USA TODAY/Bipartisan Policy Center poll taken this month, the fourth in a year-long series, shows no change in the overwhelming consensus that U.S. politics have become more divided in recent years.
But sentiments have shifted significantly during the past year about whether the nation's unyielding political divide is a positive or a negative. In February 2013, Americans said by nearly 4-1 that the heightened division is a bad thing because it makes it harder to get things done.
In the new poll, the percentage who describe the divide as bad has dropped by nearly 20 percentage points, to 55% from 74%. And the number who say it's a good thing — because it gives voters a real choice — has doubled to 40% from 20%.
Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, who conducted the poll in conjunction with Republican pollster Whit Ayres, cautions that seeing the political divide as a good thing is still a minority view, but he acknowledges it seems to be a growing one. "There's a feeling on the part of many people that in this environment where they don't see a lot of good that's happening, their goal is to have their member stop bad things from happening, and they see polarization as a way to do that," he says.
Americans have some clear ideas about what they want their representative in Congress to do:
Vote based on what their constituents want (80%), rather than on what their own conscience and experience would dictate (17%).
Work across party lines and be willing to compromise to devise solutions to the nation's problems (66%), rather than stick up for principles even if it means legislation to address serious problems doesn't pass (30%).
Spend more time in their home districts to stay in touch (67%), rather than in Washington to build relationships that would allow them to break the gridlock (27%).
Divided we still stand