When examining elections, one may conclude that their competitive nature means they’re inherently divisive. Yet when expanding one’s viewpoint to see the shared values that have fostered our democratic republic, many commonalities are revealed.
More specifically, both Democrats and Republicans want to feel their voice is heard in determining the future of the country; they want to feel safe while exercising their right to vote; and they want fair elections. Well-meaning people across the political spectrum can still differ in what their definitions of “safe” and “fair” are, but the underlying goals are shared.
At a basic level, the act of voting shows the desire to be heard and to positively influence the future of the country. Americans across the political spectrum want to be heard, and it can hurt to feel ignored. After the 2016 election, the Congressional Institute found that more than twice as many Republicans felt heard, compared with a year earlier, rising from 15% to 42%. Somewhat similarly, the 2018 election showed a dramatic increase in the desire of younger Americans to be heard through voting, as the turnout of those younger than 30 increased from 20% in 2014 to 36% in 2018.
In fact, these shared values and desires can be found underneath many contentious discussions surrounding voting, especially in the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election. This includes the impacts of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and the influence of foreign political actors.
The pandemic has necessitated changes to the voting process. These include the expansion of absentee voting and voting by mail. Absentee voting reflects a shared value held by many Americans, which is the desire to avoid compromising public health and the health of others while voting. A July 2020 Pew Research center poll found that majorities of both Republicans and Democrats believe voters should be able to vote early or absentee for either no reason or due to the pandemic.
The debate about absentee voting also highlights the shared desire for fairness. Some Democrats feel that the threat of contracting the virus could potentially prevent at-risk individuals from voting, which would be a barrier to political participation. Thus, they see absentee voting as a means to reduce this barrier. Conversely, while many Republicans share this desire for fairness, some view absentee voting as unfair, suggesting it could enable voter fraud and expose voters to potential coercion from friends and family. All in all, while certain Democrats and Republicans differ on whether absentee voting is fair, both share the overarching belief that the end result — elections — should be fair.
The desire for fairness is also visible when focusing on the threat of foreign interference on the 2020 presidential election. According to a Pew study conducted this summer, majorities in each party (including those leaning toward each party) thought it was at least somewhat likely that Russia or other foreign governments would attempt to influence the presidential election. Among respondents who believed that foreign interference was likely, over 80 percent of those in both parties believed that foreign interference poses at least a minor problem for the 2020 presidential election.
The threat of foreign interference also challenges Americans’ desire for safety. While not a physical threat, foreign interference can involve manipulation, which could have negative impacts on the emotional health of many Americans.
Another Pew study from April provides hope for the future during tightly contested elections. More than three-quarters of those in both parties said they believe that it is at least somewhat important for the loser of the 2020 presidential election to publicly concede to the winner to acknowledge the election’s legitimacy. The share of Republicans with this view was slightly higher than the share of Democrats with this view.
Americans have genuine differences when it comes to elections, but they still want to be heard, feel safe and have fair elections. These show shared beliefs about key foundational principles of our democratic republic, a promising sign for unity in a time with seemingly so much polarization.
Jackson Lanzer is a high school senior and a young professional member of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. He has contributed to contestedpolitics.com and is now writing depolarizing articles. Additionally, he was awarded a regional Scholastic Writing Award for critical essay writing in 2020. Jackson has a Center bias.
This piece was edited by AllSides.com Managing Editor Henry A. Brechter (Center bias), and was reviewed by James Coan (Center) of Braver Angels.