A report from the Center for Communication and Civic Renewal (CCCR) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found civic fracture is growing across Wisconsin.
The 2022 Civic Fracture & Renewal in Wisconsin report — led by the CCCR’s Faculty Director Dr. Michael Wagner — polled 3,031 Wisconsinites and 2,907 United States adult residents from Oct. 31 to Nov. 14, collecting responses before and after the November 2022 midterm election.
The online survey asked respondents to answer a variety of questions, some regarding their experiences of political discourse with those they disagreed with, their amount of civic participation and thoughts on the voting process.
The report found that approximately 60% of surveyed Wisconsinites said they stopped talking about politics due to a disagreement — double the findings of a 2012 survey. Seventeen percent of respondents reported ending a friendship or spending less time with a family member because of political disagreement.
“As we see people closing off avenues of cross cutting conversation, it just means that we’re becoming more polarized,” said CCCR Scientific Director and UW Professor Dr. Dhavan Shah. “We’re less able to think about ways that we can at least reach common ground, or at least hear and understand opposing perspectives.”
The study found that democracy thrives in political environments that are “factual, prosocial and grounded in values,” but that “some kinds of political conversations seem to be driving people apart.”
Additionally, 66% of surveyed Wisconsinites agreed that “American democracy is weaker than it used to be.”
Respondents with lower incomes — less than $25,000 — reported difficulty in the voting process at a rate three times higher than wealthier peers, and Wisconsin residents under 30 reported difficulty voting at a rate more than double those in older age groups.
“The difficulties of voting, or challenges to having your vote counted, seem to correspond to where efforts to restrict voting have been most pronounced,” said Shah. “We’re seeing election laws and who’s allowed to vote oftentimes determining elections rather than the will of the people.”
Fear was another barrier of political participation among some voters. Over 30% of Black, Jewish and Muslim voters surveyed in the state of Wisconsin said they avoided politics because of this reason.
“[This] really is troubling because it suggests that certain people are being disenfranchised, and that’s part of a broader political agenda to make sure certain voices aren’t heard,” Shah explained.
The CCCR also surveyed respondents’ beliefs on traditional values, seeing how far they would go to maintain positions such as “Republicans feel besieged.”
Republicans agree at a rate approximately three times higher than Democrats that traditional views are being silenced (77%), force may have to be used to save the traditional American way of life (43%) and the law may have to be taken to the hands of patriotic Americans (29%), according to the report.
Republicans who strongly approved of Donald Trump’s presidency saw an increase in the belief that force may have to be used to save democracy, a trend the CCCR called “worrisome.”
“There’s a support for a certain type of vigilantism or extremism, especially on the political right,” Shah noted. “Our system of government depends on us peacefully — not only transferring power, but resolving political disagreements.”
However, the findings gathered that more than 70% of surveyed Wisconsinites endorse compromise to “get things done” and are confident their votes are counted. Large majorities also support non-partisan legislative redistricting.
“I think the 2022 election was an indication that the Wisconsin public really felt strongly about [the voting process],” said Shah. “I think it’s going to be a political battle to win back some of the representativeness of what is considered the most gerrymandered state in the country, or one of them. I’m hopeful that will come from this election, but I think we have to wait and see.”