Young people watching the rancor between political parties and among average Americans say they do not expect it to get better anytime soon.
“No one seems to want to listen to the other side, and it’s halting any possible progress that could be made otherwise in terms of finding out how best to run the country and what would make the most people happy,” said Christopher Charles Laverde, 22, who writes for the popular anime YouTube channel We the Celestials.
Among Gen Zers (18 to 24 years old), three-quarters said they felt the United States is more divided than before, according to More in Common, an organization that focuses on building “more united, inclusive and resilient societies in which people believe that what they have in common is stronger than what divides them,” according to their website.
In More in Common’s poll, nearly half said they believe the U.S. will remain in the same state of division in 2021, while 36% said they believe the United States will be less united. Far fewer — 17% — said they believe the United States will be more united.
“It's important to keep having these conversations,” said Noelle Malvar, a senior researcher at More in Common, in a video interview. “And [Gen Z] likes messages that speak to this idea that democracy and justice are things to keep working on.”
“For example, they know that addressing inequality, or fighting for justice takes time, and that this needs to be thought about,” she said.
More in Common’s research showed that 60% of young people polled said racial equality was the most important issue for them, with health care and the cost of education being subsequent issues.
In June, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) found in their research that the environment, racism and affordable health care were the top three issues driving youth in the 2020 elections.
“Getting back to normal after the pandemic and police mistreatment also ranked highly,” CIRCLE reported.
Americans of all ages see more conflict than they did in the past two presidential election cycles, according to a Pew Research poll published in March.
Among young people, 18 to 29 in particular, more than 70% said rifts between Republicans and Democrats are very strong, Pew reported. In the same survey, 23% of young people said rifts between these two groups are strong, while 4% called the rifts not very strong between the parties.
Kahnika Mehra is an English and communications major at the University of Maryland who interns at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C. She said she sees an increase in political polarization on social media.
“I find current conversations [between Republicans and Democrats] so dysfunctional and toxic,” she said in an interview with VOA.
Young people do not feel good about the divide. Less than half — 44% — of students said they feel proud to be an American, Chegg and College Plus reported.
Jacob Ehlers, 27, said his family has been divided by political rifts.
“My distant Republican relatives were already pretty bad when Obama was first elected but they got worse with the Tea Party, and then when [President Donald] Trump came around, it became unbearable. We couldn't have a normal discussion anymore,” Ehlers said.
Days before the election, Reuters news agency reported about families cleaved by political discord. When a mother from Milwaukee told her son she was voting for Trump because she aligned with his views on immigration, he said he was disowning her.
“This divide is affecting people’s mental and physical health because there’s so much fear-mongering going on,” Laverde said. “It feels like there’s going to be another war in America and no matter who wins, we're all going to end up losing in the long run.”
Laverde added, “Not to mention, however the virus situation goes, and any number of things really,” he said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It's not hard to provoke the public.”
According to a study by the Healthy Minds Network, depression in 2019 increased among young people. Between March and May 2020, a higher proportion of students reported that their mental health negatively affected their academic performance, compared with the year before.
Yafei Zhao, a journalism major at the University of Maryland College Park, lived in the Shandong province on the northeast coast of China before moving to the United States in 2013. He said he hopes polarizing partisanship in the United States will go away, but said this is unlikely.
“I feel like we should all unite together as a nation and as a country because our differences are what makes us stronger,” Zhao said.
“I think political disagreement is a natural part of any free society. Yet in recent years, the partisan divide has continued to grow larger,” said Shehryar Haris, a master’s candidate at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington. Haris was born in Karachi and grew up in Dubai.
“Populist tides have largely overtaken the discourse, which is dangerous,” she said. “But the American political and legal systems are designed in such a way to ensure checks and balances that allow government to resist these growing populist waves.”
Justin Young, 25, said he remains optimistic about the future and how conflicts will be resolved.
“I hope that people can look beyond cheap externalities when listening to a message,” Young said. “This, however, will not be a short and simple process. Especially with world issues. ... It’s going to take years and a concerted effort to make Americans un-partisan again.”