Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated 
By Dante Chinni and Sally Bronston

WASHINGTON — This week's new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll brings some good news: Americans seem to be coalescing around a common idea. It also brings some bad news: The common idea is that we are a remarkably divided nation. And the way we view the forces behind the divides are, well, divisive.

In the latest survey, 8 of 10 people polled say they believe the country is "mainly" or "totally" divided. That's 80 percent agreement on a single topic in a country that is split 50/50 (or something close to it) on a wide range of issues.

More striking in the data is how uniform the feelings are about the nation's divided nature. Across a broad collection of groups — Democrats and Republicans, urban and rural people, Clinton voters and Trump voters — more than 70 percent say the nation is mainly or totally divided.

That's a truly remarkable set of numbers. When polls seem to show a solid majority in 2018, the majority often falls apart when the numbers are broken into subgroups — Democrats feel one way, and Republicans feel another. But in this area, the agreement holds.

And the nation's political divides, in particular, have voters concerned. Nine out of 10 of those surveyed say the divisions between Democrats and Republicans are a serious problem. Beyond that, 61 percent say those divisions are a very serious problem.

Add it all up, and those numbers suggest an electorate that is worn out by animosity and disagreement — an electorate that wants to put Washington's divides behind it. But before you prepare for a new era of common ground, there is the question of why the country is so divided, and that's where the shared beliefs end.

The poll asked respondents whom they blame for the nation's disunited state, and when you look at their answers through the frame of Donald Trump's presidency, sharp divisions emerge.

Among the 30 percent of respondents who strongly approve of Trump's job performance, there is a pretty clear line of blame for the nation's divided nature.

The "Democratic Party/Liberals" lead the way with this group. Next on the list is "Barack Obama." Trump's supporters also cast a somewhat wider net. They give some blame to "Godless"-ness, "The Media" and "The People/General Public of America." Some even go as far as mentioning "Donald Trump," but on the whole, there is a distinct partisan cast to the list.

On the other side of the Trump divide, the 43 percent who strongly disapprove of Trump's job performance, we can see an even clearer picture.

Trump's name stands apart from every other option on the list of potential causes with this group. Following the president is the "Republican Party/Conservatives," but no other answer rates very highly. This is a distinctly blue view of the nation's disunity.

And among the 27 percent of respondents who neither strongly approve nor disapprove of Trump's job performance, the president takes most of the blame, but his opponents take a hit, as well.

Trump leads the way with this group, but the "Democratic Party/Liberals" come in as a relatively close second. "The Media" also catch some of the blame, and "Tribalism" also gets some.

Taken together, the numbers show not only how deep the divides are in U.S. politics, but also how hard they will be to overcome.

They suggest that voters have no doubt that the country's political divisiveness has become a deep and dangerous problem but also that the problem is mostly the other side's fault. In a closely divided country, it's hard to see how those attitudes lead to a resolution any time soon.