Polarization rings through as a theme in second year of Trump presidency

ST. LEO, FL – As the Trump administration enters its second year of governing, about eight in 10 Americans still report feeling divided from other Americans, and only one in three feel optimistic about reducing political discord, according to a February poll conducted among more than 1,000 adults by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu). A parallel poll conducted with 500 Florida adults participating found very similar results.

High percentage levels of those polled said they observed a weakening of democracy. Those who reported strong levels of trust in White House statements, or in the mainstream media to report political news accurately, were less than half of those polled.

“The biggest change from last year is an even more pessimistic view of the country than we had last year both nationally and in Florida,” said Frank Orlando, political scientist and director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute. “More respondents see democracy slipping away, fewer Americans are optimistic about reducing political discord, and nationally we have many more people arguing that not all free speech patterns should be protected. If the Trump presidency hasn’t been as catastrophic as those who voted against him believed from a policy perspective, it has certainly contributed to the growing sense of polarization and despair in the process. The camped battles, heated rhetoric, and media attention have made it very difficult to feel good about the state of public discourse,” he said.

Statements – respondents asked to read and report level of agreement or disagreement U.S. – Strongly & Somewhat Agree 2/2018- % U.S. – Strongly & Somewhat Agree 3/2017-% Florida – Strongly & Somewhat Agree 2/2018- % Florida – Strongly & Somewhat Agree 3/2017 -%
We are more divided as a nation than ever before 80.1 82.1 81.2 80.5
I see democracy slipping away in the United States 68.3 65.2 71.0 64.1
The White House administration appears to be moving us toward authoritarianism 53.3 51.9 49.0 50.3
I have strong trust in the mainstream news media (such as U.S. newspapers, broadcasters, and online media such as CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, Associated Press, Washington Post, New York Times) to accurately cover politics in this nation 48.3 48.4 47.0 47.7
Not all free speech patterns should be protected 42.2 35.5 38.6 41.4
I want to hear celebrities voice their political views 34.0 37.3 35.8 37.5
I am very optimistic about reducing political discord 33.1 49.4 34.4 47.9
I trust the statements, releases and tweets from the new White House administration 30.4 32.5 38.0 38.5
At times, physical violence during demonstrations is justified 18.6 17.5 17.6 18.7
At times, property damage during demonstrations is justified 17.3 14.3 15.6 16.0



As the table indicates, the number of people willing to agree that violence or property damage during political demonstrations persisted above 10 percent in all the survey samples over the two years. The proportion was nearly one in five on the most recent national sample. Of all the respondents, the sub-population most apt to show tolerance for violence—29.2 percent—or destruction of property—28.3 percent—are in the 18-to-35 age group.

Some Citizens Act, Others Tune Out
The polling institute has also asked people about their level of political engagement or activity since the 2016 election. Engagement and activities were broadly defined in the question, such as staying informed, or attending events, posting on social media, volunteering, and donating. In February at least one-third reported being more active and a quarter said they are still engaged in the political process, even if less so than since the election.

It is also true that in February, 10.6 percent nationally, and nearly 12 percent in Florida, reported being less active, or almost not involved in following politics in the latest survey. Those were increases of about one percentage point.

Some people reported that had not been engaged in the 2016 presidential race that seemed like such a significant event to others in the nation. The February findings reveal more than 18 percent of respondents nationally and more than 15 percent in Florida were not interested in events as the 2016 election year proceeded. In 2017, even higher percentage levels said they had tuned out the prior year’s presidential election cycle.

Personal Level of Political Engagement National:
February 2018 – %
March 2017 – %
February 2018 – %
March 2017 – %
More Active 33.9 25.8 37.2 28.2
Less active, but still engaged 25.0 24.5 27.2 26.0
Less active or almost not engaged 10.6 11.5 11.8 10.5
No longer active 4.1 5.0 3.4 6.1
Was never active/engaged in the 2016 election cycle 18.3 26.3 15.6 23.3
Unsure 8.1 6.8 4.8 5.9



Upon seeing the year-to-year comparison, Orlando commented, “The events of the last few years have made those invested in politics even more excited, and those on the fringe even less interested. This polarization of engagement eventually leads to a polarization of ideas as more moderate voices leave the public sphere.”

Orlando continued, “it remains to be seen if the pent-up aggression displayed in the first chart will express itself in increased voter turnout in the midterms. Anger can motivate voters to get to the polls, but often this anger turns to resignation and apathy when the president isn’t on the ballot.”

About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: The poll sampled opinions of 1,007 adults approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted February 18 through February 24, 2018. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The poll has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

A sample of 500 Florida respondents has an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).
Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).


About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University (www.saintleo.edu) is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving more than 13,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 90,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.