Conservative Christians these days would not be faulted for believing that they have so little in common with their neighbors on the opposite end of the political spectrum that there’s no way to bridge the divide. We’re commanded by scripture to be salt and light in our community, but how is it possible these days to engage in meaningful relationships with ideologically diverse friends, neighbors and co-workers, given the prevalence of daily news stories describing how “divided” America is? Doesn’t the evidence suggest that we are so far apart on so many issues that we can’t even talk civilly to each other?
A new survey published by Populace, a Massachusetts think tank, offers some revealing insights into our collective beliefs as Americans and suggests that the Left and Right have more in common than we’ve been led to believe. Although the survey was not conducted by a pollster with a particular religious worldview, the Populace results line up with others, such as Georg Barna, who most definitely do.
One of the key findings of the Populace survey was this: “Across race, gender, income, education, generational cohorts, and 2020 presidential vote, there is stunning agreement on the long-term national values and priorities that Americans believe should characterize the country moving forward. Chief among them: high quality healthcare as a necessity, not a privilege; an overwhelming commitment to individual rights; and upholding equal treatment for all, but not necessarily equal outcomes.”
If you dig a little deeper, according to the survey, you’ll find several common policy objectives held by those on the Left and Right.
“Voters from both political camps want improvement in the near-term on healthcare, keeping communities safe, helping the middle class, modernizing infrastructure, and criminal justice reform,” the survey reveals.
Interestingly, the survey found that Americans as a whole are not so much interested in national unity as an ultimate goal, but they do “privately value restoring respect for one another.”
The divisiveness we see, according to the results of the survey, is more a function of the intensity with which political opinions are held on a few subjects, rather than widespread differences.
“Contrary to prevailing public opinion narratives,” the report states, “Trump and Biden voters actually agree on a greater number of high-level, high-stakes aspirations than on which they disagree. Out of each voting bloc’s top fifteen personally held national aspirations for the country, Trump voters and Biden voters actually hold nine in common.”
Even more revealing is that Americans hold common aspirations for this country that cross demographic categories. Priorities are almost identical for men and women, across various races, education and income levels.
Number one in every demographic category is a commitment to “individual rights,” which include values such as free speech and freedom of religion. That’s a commonality that not only led to the foundation of our Republic, but remains strong over 200 years later. What an encouraging sign for a country that wants and needs to return to civil discourse.
But we hold some common illusions that may be keeping us from talking to each other. The survey revealed that while most people highly value the civic virtue that “people treat one another with respect,” many more of us don’t believe that other folks hold this same view.
Perhaps our lack of faith in our fellow man comes from the experience we have with our social media accounts. The survey doesn’t address that phenomenon, but it may be that the vast majority of us would be better behaved and respectful in face-to-face conversations with our neighbors than we would be on a Facebook page.
For those of us who are followers of Jesus, this survey ought to encourage us to carry on with the work of sharing our lives with others, and along the way sharing the good news of the gospel. It turns out that those neighbors, co-workers and strangers in the coffee shop share more of our values than we thought.
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