“Vital Signs: A Poll of the Nation from the Hoover Institution” takes a nonpartisan annual pulse of the American electorate. It explores three major themes: governmental power and liberty; social and environmental justice; and populism. This year’s survey also examines how Democratic and Republican partisans perceive each other and assesses their friendship patterns: To what extent are polarization and partisanship affected by relationships? The survey was designed by scholars at the Hoover Institution and the data were collected by YouGov, a global polling firm, from January 6–11, 2022. The sample of 1,517 adults was selected from YouGov’s panel to be a nationally representative sample of US adults in terms of age, gender, race, education, and vote in the 2016 US presidential election. The margin of error is approximately plus or minus 3 percentage points.

“Governmental power and liberty” addresses the traditional divide between Republicans and Democrats on governmental intervention in the economy, classical libertarian issues, modern liberalism, and personal freedom. The theme of social and environmental justice explores matters of race relations, immigration, climate change, affirmative action, and iconoclasm. The third theme, populism, concerns attitudes regarding the “people” and their relationship to the “elite” and also trust in institutions. “Vital Signs” is an attempt to determine the extent to which polarization and populism hinder constructive policy making, especially the finding of common ground to make trade-offs on issues such as freedom of speech, health care policy, gun regulation, and how far a government can go in restraining citizen behavior. Ultimately, it is intended to help identify preferred solutions from market-based proposals to state/federal government interventions.



Traditional Views about Government Intervention in the Economy 
Beliefs about government power represent traditional divides between Republicans and Democrats. For example, 57 percent of Republicans believe there is too much government regulation of business, as opposed to only 9 percent of Democrats. Similarly, while 74 percent of Democrats favor increasing taxes on families earning over $250,000 per year, only 37 percent of Republicans support such a measure.

Traditional Views about Personal Freedom
Differing views about personal freedom in the age of COVID-19 represent traditional divides between Republicans and Democrats. For example, 86 percent of Democrats believe that schools and businesses should be permitted to mandate masks, compared to 40 percent of Republicans.

Democrats and Republicans Share Populist Views
Both sides of the political spectrum share general populist views, as do Independents. For example, majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents believe that the government is run by a few big interests (76 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Independents), many government officials are crooked (71 percent Republicans, 50 percent Democrats, 64 percent Independents), and that nothing they do has any effect on what happens in politics (59 percent Republicans, 51 percent Democrats, 59 percent Independents). Independents are closer to the Republican position across all five populist assertions surveyed, which may give the Republicans a boost in the upcoming midterm elections.

Confidence in Institutions
The only American institution that received an overall 60 percent confidence rating (having a lot or some confidence) is the police, with Democratic confidence rebounding significantly from 2021 to 57 percent. No other institution reached the 50 percent mark. While Democrats and Republicans share general populist views, they differ about the institutions they distrust. For example, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to express “no confidence” in organized religion (31 percent of Democrats to 13 percent of Republicans). By contrast, Republicans by larger proportions than Democrats express “no confidence” in universities (39 percent Republicans to 10 percent Democrats), the media (67 percent Republicans to 20 percent Democrats), and the United Nations (53 percent Republicans to 12 percent Democrats).

Partisan Perceptions
Less than 10 percent of Republicans say that Democrats are patriotic, intelligent, honest, open-minded and generous. Majorities of Republicans agree that most Democrats are close-minded and hypocritical with almost half saying they are selfish and about a third saying Democrats are mean. Less than 10 percent of Democrats agreed that most Republicans are intelligent, honest, open-minded, or generous. Over two-thirds of Democrats thought Republicans are close-minded,  three in five said Republicans are hypocritical, and a majority said they are selfish.

In response to the question, “Do you have any friends that you think are Republicans/ Democrats?” 71 percent of Republicans said they had Democratic friends and 56 percent of Democrats said that they had Republican friends. Interestingly, Republicans said they had more Democratic friends than Republican friends, while Democrats had more fellow partisans as friends. About 10 percent in each party said their best friend was in the other party (10 percent for Republicans and 9 percent for Democrats).

Although severe partisan polarization on the issues remains, it appears that many Americans have friends in the other party and do not feel as though they can’t say what they think. These patterns of friendship and perception of the other party raise interesting questions that we shall pursue in future surveys.

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