Election Day nears, Americans mull divide

2016-11-06 09:16
Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton take a selfie as they wait for Clinton to arrive at a rally. (Wilfredo Lee, AP)

Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton take a selfie as they wait for Clinton to arrive at a rally. (Wilfredo Lee, AP)

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Kansas City - The idea had never occurred to the Reverent Adam Hamilton at the conclusion of past presidential campaigns. But this Election Day, the megachurch he leads in the Kansas City suburbs will invite congregants, and anyone else who chooses, to stop in and pray for the nation to heal itself.

"There's plenty of division in our country every year, but this year's election is different," said Hamilton, founding pastor of the 20 000-member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, where two of four campuses will serve as polling stations. "Our families are divided. We're divided sometimes from our friends. Even when we're in church here our politics are different. And I think we have to be reminded that there's a bigger picture here."

As Hamilton's congregants and millions of other Americans weather the final days of a campaign cycle filled with insults and anger, the nation indeed finds itself at a troubling crossroads.

Gaining traction

Americans are split over immigration; the changes wrought by globalisation; the treatment of minorities and the threat of terrorism. But partisanship, long rising, has veered beyond policy disagreement. Now, roughly half of Democrats and Republicans tell pollsters they fear those in the other party.

With people increasingly ensconced in media silos and social networks that surround them with like-minded views, many cannot even agree on what constitutes basic facts.

The economy, by almost any empirical measure, is healthy and gaining traction. Yet as Americans head to the polls, many talk about being left behind not just by the recovery, but the political system.

"The unemployment rate right now, regardless of what the numbers say, is horrendous.... I can look here and nobody's working," said Alan Halsey, who has a sign for Republican nominee Donald Trump in the window of the general store he runs in Campton, Kentucky. "If we continue on this road, this place is going to look like Iraq or Afghanistan. There's going to be nothing here."

Halsey's viewpoint contrasts with figures showing that unemployment nationwide is down to 4.9%. Median household income jumped last year to just more than $56 500, the highest it has been since before the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008. The share of Americans living in poverty declined sharply last year to 13.5%. Home prices are rising again and millions more people have health insurance.

But the rebound has been slow to reach some Americans, particularly in manufacturing and mining communities that have lost many jobs, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics.

Political environment

"We dug ourselves into such a deep hole early on in 2008, 2009 that we've spent the last eight years really digging out of it," Zandi said. "But if you've been struggling for more than a couple or three years, you begin to expect that that's your world forever. You're doomed and not only doomed, but your kids are doomed ... and a lot of people are still stuck in that negative psychology."

The divide was spotlighted in a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, asking voters to compare their lives with those of people like them 50 years ago. When Trump supporters were asked that question, 4 in 5 said life in the US today is worse for people like them. A nearly equal number of voters backing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said life today is just as good or better.

"This is one of the core questions that speak to the current political environment," said Jocelyn Kiley, associate director of research for Pew. "Political divisions are about more than just political issues, but about perceptions of the state of the country."

Read more on:    donald trump  |  hillary clinton  |  us  |  us 2016 elections

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