The country’s cultural divides and political divides have become one and the same, according to a new national NBC News poll.
The poll finds stark partisan differences on major cultural issues — racism, accepting LGBTQ people, the term “woke,” and even the fundamental goals of American society.
Half of Americans — 50% — believe society should be promoting greater respect for traditional social and moral values, while 42% say society should be encouraging greater tolerance of people with different lifestyles and backgrounds. That perspective has stayed almost completely stagnant since the poll asked the same question in 2013.
Digging into those numbers reveals a deep partisan divide.
Three in four Republicans say the country should promote traditional social and moral values, while 67% of Democrats want greater tolerance of diverse lifestyles and backgrounds. Independents are split, with 49% picking traditional values and 41% siding with greater tolerance.
“The survey revealed a country on fire, seething with anger at our political leaders and too often at each other,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research, who conducted the poll along with GOP pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.
The poll “revealed a country sharply divided on these questions politically, and often ethnicity and generation,” he added.
Americans are also divided on whether their country judges by the content of their character rather than the content of their skin. Significant majorities of Black adults (79%) and Latinos (61%) disagree with that statement, while a slight majority of white adults (53%) agree with it.
Overall, 52% of Americans disagree that the country judges people by the content of their character rather than their skin color, while 47% agree.
While this divide is within the poll’s margin of error, it’s the first time since 2008 the majority of respondents have disagreed with the statement, which evokes the famous declaration by civil rights icon Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Asked if American society is racist, 59% of adults agree, with a whopping 79% of Black adults and 69% of Latino adults saying society is racist.
These partisan divides come as Republican presidential hopefuls have been leaning into the culture wars as they appeal to the GOP base — the field of candidates (and likely candidates) have largely rallied around rejecting “woke” perspectives and promoting restrictions on transgender people, particularly in schools or for gender-affirming care for minors.
Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for president, often says that his state is “where woke goes to die.” And former President Donald Trump said he’d block any federal agency from trying to “promote the concept of sex and gender transition at any age.”
The poll finds that the term “woke” is well known, with 76% of Americans saying they are familiar with the term, while 22% were not familiar with it. But the country is again divided along partisan lines over what exactly “woke” means, and if it is a positive or negative concept.
Open-ended interviews with those polled show that partisans also differ on how to define “woke.” Democrats describe it as a personal view that expresses empathy and awareness of systemic injustices, while Republicans, and some independents, were more likely to describe wokeness as an agenda promoting far-left priorities.
Being woke means being “filled with empathy and trying to understand other people,” said one older Democratic man from California. A younger female Democrat from the District of Columbia said it means being “mindful of historical inequities.”
But a middle-aged Republican man from Kentucky described being woke as “an excuse to run rampant and do what you please under a false pretense that you are for a righteous cause.” And an older independent woman from Wisconsin described it as “newfangled gobbledygook” and “a bunch of B.S.”
Divides on transgender acceptance
The poll also finds 48% of Americans believe the country has gone “too far” in accepting transgender people. A slightly smaller share of Americans — 43% — believe the country has “not gone far enough in ending discrimination against transgender people.” It’s a divide within the poll’s margin of error.
Again, respondents fell along party lines with 79% of Republicans saying the country has gone too far and 76% of Democrats saying the country has not gone far enough. Fifty percent of independents say society has gone too far, and 36% say it hasn’t gone far enough.
The survey finds that most Americans do not personally know someone who identifies as transgender — just 28% say they themselves, a friend, a family member or a coworker are transgender. Those who fall in that category are more likely to be younger, Democrats and highly educated.
And those relationships, or lack thereof, appear to make a big difference in views on society’s acceptance of transgender people.
Among those who say they know a transgender person, 67% say society hasn’t gone far enough in accepting transgender people and 25% say society has gone too far.
Among those who say they do not know a transgender person, 57% say society has gone too far, while 34% say it hasn’t gone far enough.
The NBC News poll was conducted April 14-18 of 1,000 adults — including 861 reached by cell phone — and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.