Despite polarization, Americans remain hopeful that common ground can be found

Published 5:04 pm Tuesday, November 8, 2022

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By Claire Conway via Associated Press

Americans are feeling gloomy as we head into the midterm elections. Several emotionally charged issues will be at the forefront of Americans’ minds heading into the election. These issues are having a direct effect on Americans’ outlook.

A representative sample of American adults were surveyed by The Harris Poll to determine American mood. Politics, the economy, and other social issues have people feeling more than a little down.

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While some Americans remain positive, others can’t see past the possible adverse outcomes, and their moods are suffering for it.

All for One

The Harris Poll reported that, in general, inherently political issues are most often perceived to have a negative effect on emotions. The survey found that 57% of Americans believe that the state of the economy has a negative impact on their mood, and 63% say it casts negativity on the overall mood of people across the United States.

54% feel that elections and party division have a negative effect on their mood, and 59% believe that extends to everyone in the U.S. 53% report that global events have a negative impact on their mood and 59% believe everyone in the U.S. feels likewise.

Finding Common Ground

Despite increased polarization among political and social groups, most Americans still believe that they can find common ground on the central issues that exist in the country. 87% of adults surveyed believe that at least one social or political issue in the U.S. could garner widespread support from Americans.

When asked in which areas they believe Americans could achieve common ground, 40% said the economy, 36% said healthcare access, 30% said gun control legislation, and 28% said human equality. When asked which areas they believe are most likely to receive such widespread support, 19% said the economy, 10% said healthcare access, 7% said reproductive rights, 7% said human equality, 7% said economic equality, and 7% said gun control legislation.

Social Media Influence

Social media and national news outlets are often cited as major influences driving the overall mood of Americans. National politicians come in a close second.

20% of U.S. adults think that social media has the most influence over the public mood, with an equal number referencing national media outlets such as news stations and journalists. 18% said politicians have the most impact, 13% claimed personal connections such as friends, family, and colleagues, and 6% blamed local politicians.

The Gender Gap

Time Magazine conducted its own poll to determine different genders’ emotions going into the midterm elections.

Respondents were asked to choose from a list of 14 emotions and identify which one they experienced most often in the last 30 days. “Frustrated” was the top word selected by female respondents, and “hopeful” was the top word for men.

Men and women named “happy” in equal proportions. Although the survey did not try to measure the intensity of the emotions, women were far more likely to define their feelings over the past month as “tired” and “anxious.” Men were significantly more likely than women to pick “excited” and “proud.” Other than an even split on “happy,” men were overall more likely to choose the positive emotions provided in the survey.

The poll also indicates that the economy looms larger for women. Even though men are more likely to have lost wages, 37% of women, compared to 29% of men, report revising their budgets because of rising consumer prices in the last 30 days.

59% of women, compared to 55% of men, say the economy negatively affects their mood. Among the other issues asked about in the survey, such as Covid-19, social media, and public safety; the economy was the one women were most likely to say had a negative effect on their mood. 56% of men were more likely to say that about politics.

The Age Gap

The gender gap is not the only difference revealed by the survey. Older Americans reported feeling more affected by “global events.” 35% of 18-34-year-olds said that global events contribute negatively to their outlooks, compared to 75% of those 65 and older.

The Race Gap

The positivity of black Americans stands out in the survey as well. 43% report feeling optimistic about the country’s current state, and 22% say they are “hopeful.” “Hopeful” also ranked the highest among Hispanic respondents.

“Frustrated” ranked first among white respondents. Black respondents were likelier to name politics as a source of positive emotions. 43% said it contributes positively to their moods. Only 18% of white and 30% of Hispanic respondents shared this belief.

Black Americans were notably more likely to select a positive emotion for every option provided by the poll.


The goal of the surveys was to capture the transition of America as it splits into more directions than can be easily kept track of. The biggest challenge is perception. Issues and experiences once shared and dealt with together are now split in many polarizing directions.

The polarization occurring in America has had a negative effect on not just moods but interpersonal relationships as well. Families are splitting down the middle because each side has a different belief system. Friend groups are broken up because some identify as Democrats and others as Republicans.

Beliefs once seen as “different, but acceptable” have now become unjustifiable. Covid-19 and the increasingly bipartisan political atmosphere contributed the most to this divide in society in the last few years.

Those who identify as liberals are more than twice as likely as those who identify as conservatives to describe their feelings about the current state of America “positively.”

However, when presented with a list of 14 emotions and asked which one they experienced “most” over the last 30 days, the results were strikingly similar across the ideologies. Liberal, moderate, and conservative Americans only differed slightly in the degree to which they reported feeling hopeful, frustrated, happy, tired, anxious, confident, disappointed, excited, hopeless, sad, angry, proud, relieved, and scared.

So we may not be as unalike as we’d like to think.