State of the Union: How we remain divided

JIM WATSON AFP/GETTY IMAGES The US Capitol stands lit ahead of US President Obama’s State of the Union address in … Continued

JIM WATSON

AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The US Capitol stands lit ahead of US President Obama’s State of the Union address in Washington, DC, February 12, 2013.

Tonight, President Obama will address a divided Congress in his fourth State of the Union speech, tackling a wide range of contentious issues. Florida Senator Marco Rubio will deliver the Republican response to the speech in English and Spanish, highlighting the GOP’s new effort to appeal to Hispanic Americans through bipartisan immigration reform, but the country remains divided on many of the issues on Obama’s agenda. Public opinion data shows deep rifts by age, political affiliation, and religious affiliation on the issues that Obama is likely to specifically address, including climate change, the federal budget, gun control, and gay and lesbian issues. Here’s a rundown on the divisions, and the occasional common ground, on the major topics:

1. Immigration reform.

Overall, when given the choice between a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that couples enforcement with a path to citizenship, and a deportation-only approach, Americans prefer the comprehensive approach over the enforcement-only approach by a large margin (62 percent vs. 36 percent).

However, Republicans are nearly evenly divided, with half (50 percent) favoring the comprehensive approach and almost half (48 percent) favoring the deportation-only approach. Meanwhile, a solid majority (57 percent) of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party favor the deportation-only approach, while only approximately 4-in-10 (41 percent) support comprehensive reform. In fact, the 40-point gap between Tea Party identifiers and Hispanic Americans is one of the largest on this issue: more than 8-in-10 (81 percent) Hispanic Americans favor comprehensive reform. These divisions do not bode well for bipartisan immigration reform efforts, and highlight the role that Senator Rubio – a Tea Party darling who has also been one of the Republican Party’s most vocal advocates for immigration reform – must play in the upcoming negotiations.

2. Climate change.

Climate change is another issue that is likely to make its way onto Obama’s State of the Union program, as it did in his recent inaugural address, although it’s probable that his actions will not rely on Congress’ approval. More than 6-in-10 (63 percent) Americans say the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of global climate change, while one-third (33 percent) disagree, showing that many Americans believe the underlying science. But there are nearly 30-point partisan divides. Seven-in-ten (70 percent) Democrats and 65 percent of independents agree that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of global climate change, while among Republicans, only 43 percent agree, and a majority (55 percent) disagree. These findings clearly show why Obama will most likely use his executive power to curb emissions from existing power plants, rather than trying to pass environmental legislation through the Republican-controlled House.

3. Gun Control.

Last December’s tragic shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, launched gun control legislation to the front of Obama’s agenda. And although support for stricter gun control laws has jumped eight points since last summer (52 percent in August 2012 vs. 60 percent today), the underlying data indicates that this is largely a result of Democrats’ heightened resolve, rather than a change of heart among Republicans. Between August and January, Democrats’ support for stricter gun control laws increased by 13 points (72 percent in August 2012 vs. 85 percent today), while levels of support among Republicans (30 percent) and independents (54 percent) remained essentially unchanged.

4. The Budget.

Meanwhile, budget issues will, inevitably, make an appearance in the State of the Union address, which is happening just days after Obama called for a short-term solution to the “sequester,” a package of across-the-board cuts to the federal budget that will take effect if Congress does not take action by March 1st. This is one place where Americans are not as divided, at least in principle: late last year, as Congress struggled to find a solution to the impending “fiscal cliff,” more than 7-in-10 (72 percent) voters say we should employ a combined approach of cutting major programs and raising taxes.

5. Rights for Gay and Lesbian Americans

Finally, LGBT issues – in particular, same-sex marriage – may also find their way into Obama’s address. Last May, Obama first declared his support for allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, an issue on which Americans are nearly evenly divided (49 percent favor, 45 percent opposed). These overall divisions, however, mask a large generational rift: while nearly 7-in-10 (68 percent) Millennials (age 18-29) favor same-sex marriage, only 37 percent of seniors (age 65 and older) agree. The religious landscape has also shifted over the last few years, with major religious groups now on both sides of this debate. Majorities of religiously unaffiliated Americans (74 percent), non-Christian religious Americans such as Jews, Buddhists, or Muslims (70 percent), white mainline Protestants (56 percent), and Catholics (54 percent) favor allowing gay and lesbian people to marry legally, while majorities of black Protestants (58 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (73 percent) are opposed.

Later this year, the Supreme Court will rule on two important cases: the legality of Proposition 8, a California ballot measure which amended the state’s constitution to delegitimize the state Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of gay marriage, and the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Obama administration ceased to defend in 2011.

These divisions mark an ongoing battle on many of these issues. The question is whether, after this State of the Union, the president will be able to marshal public opinion behind him to bring his agenda to fruition, or whether he will be thwarted by a divided Congress and country.

About

Robert P. Jones Dr. Robert P. Jones is the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute and a leading scholar and commentator on religion, values, and public life.
  • alltheroadrunnin

    I can clear up Issue 5 for you, and that might give a hint of the chances of resolving the other 4 issues.

    LGBT issues, as well as anyone in opposition to those issues, are based on one core activity — various methods of achieving sexual orgasms. If one acknowledges the clarity of that fact, it does suggest the chances of resolving the other 4 issues presented in the article.

    I would guess the onanists are the majority, but we never hear from them.

    Good luck.

  • CitizenWhy

    Perhaps this address’s name should be changed to “State of the Union but not the Neo-Confederacy.

  • DRJJJ

    We spent more time talking private sex lives than public debt! What’s wrong with this picture?

Read More Articles

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

shutterstock_134310734
Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

shutterstock_188545496
Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

5783999789_9d06e5d7df_b
The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

concert
Why I Want to Be Culturally Evangelical

I’ve lost my faith. Do I have to lose my heritage, too?

shutterstock_37148347
What Is a Saint?

How the diversity of saintly lives reveals multiple paths toward God.

987_00
An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

shutterstock_188022491
Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

Pile_of_trash_2
Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

sunset-hair
From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.