New Commission on Political Reform Confronts Hyper-Partisanship in National Town Hall Meeting

Top Political and Civic Leaders Join Public Explore Causes and Consequences of Extreme Polarization at Reagan Library Event

Contact: 

Ashley Berrang

(202) 637-1456

aberrang@bipartisanpolicy.org

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Commission Releases New Bipartisan National Poll on the Extent of America’s Divide

Los Angeles, CA – The Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) new Commission on Political Reform (CPR) held its first National Conversation on American Unity, a unique interactive town hall meeting examining the causes and consequences of America’s extreme partisan political divide. In a wide-ranging discussion at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library, the commission pledged to recommend reforms to help Americans achieve shared national goals.

“Democrats and Republicans today often seem less like respectful political opponents and more like immovable partisan enemies who question one another’s motives and even love of country. But they still must communicate with each other directly and frequently for our demanding system of government to function for the people,” said former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a co-chair of the commission and BPC senior fellow.

“That communication has largely broken down. We are here to learn from the people and each other, and start a process through which we will recommend reforms to help the parties work together again,” added former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a commission co-chair and BPC co-founder.

“The current sequester fiasco reflects the growing trend toward a corrosive political culture of hyper-partisanship and personal rancor that makes bipartisan compromise nearly impossible,” said former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, also a commission co-chair and BPC senior fellow. “This is not just a Washington problem. It is a national problem that requires the involvement of all of us in providing political rewards for officials and candidates who demonstrate a willingness to work together, and a penalty for those who don't. We must reengage Americans broadly in listening to and working with each other, and expecting their elected officials to do the same.”

 

“The parties will always have strong and legitimate disagreements — which is a strength not a weakness of the American democracy,” said former Governor Dirk Kempthorne, also a commission co-chair. “If those disagreements prevent action on our basic duties to promote economic growth, strengthen national defense and help the country be more productive, then we must consider reforms to make the system function again.”

“We need to find a way to promote bipartisan cooperation on crucial issues, even while continuing to nurture healthy debate and disagreement,” said former U.S. Representative and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, a co-chair and BPC senior fellow. “Our commission will make recommendations in three areas – election reform, congressional reform and engagement in public service - to not only help Washington work better but to encourage people around the country to become more robust citizens and more involved in public service.”

The National Conversation on American Unity was moderated by Susan Page of USA TODAY and examined the extent of the partisan divide in Washington and across the country as a whole. The co-chairs were joined by 14 other commission members, including national political leaders, volunteer and religious leaders, veterans, business executives, academics, state and local elected officials and journalists. A full list of commissioners is available here.

The public joined the town hall live at the Reagan Library and via Twitter at #EngageUSA and on Facebook, posing questions to the commissioners and voting in real time on key questions during the program. A full webcast of the event is available here.

Throughout the next year the commission will also host forums in other cities across the country, including Philadelphia; Columbus, Ohio; and Boston. In 2014, the commission will present recommendations to the American people in three areas: reforming the electoral system, improving congressional procedures, and promoting public service.

At the event, BPC and USA TODAY released a new national poll conducted by the bipartisan team of Whit Ayres and Mark Mellman. Some of the key findings included:

  • Democrats approve of President Obama 90 to 6 percent, compared only 15 of Republicans approving and 80 percent disapproving. President George W. Bush is equally polarizing, with 83 to 12 percent approval/disapproval among Republicans, and 18 to 76 percent among Democrats. Virtually identical patterns are seen for each president’s job approval ratings.
  • Just 15 percent of Americans are true Independents. When over 8 out of 10 voters identify with one party or the other, it is no surprise that the country is deeply divided politically.
  • The role of government engenders strong partisan polarization and even division. By margins of 74 to 22 percent, Republicans believe government is doing too many things better left to businesses; conversely by a 66 to 24 percent margin Democrats believe that government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people.
  • On the deficit so much at the center of public discussion, divisions are not nearly as deep. Just 19 percent want only increased taxes or only spending cuts to deal with the deficit. The overwhelming majority (70 percent) prefer some combination of the two, with preference weighted toward more spending cuts than tax increases.

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