Credit: Newsday/Matt Davies

Listen clearly to these authentic American voices.

"The main problem is politicians. They divide and conquer," says a Black woman, 75, from Georgia.

"I think we all share this desire that we’re not going to give up on the Great Experiment," says a white woman, 49, from Maryland.

"Being uneducated, I think that's the number one reason we get divided," says an Asian American man, 40, from California.

These reflections suggest that for all the fierce factionalism, and the signs of fraying and alienation, and the exhibitionist protests, the voices of ordinary people across the United States remain very recognizable.

The statements — along with others more negative, spiteful and fatalistic — come from voters interviewed for a Siena Research Institute survey of 6,077 Americans from April 23 to May 3.

Sentiments like these might well have been heard from past generations of Americans. They tell us that we the electorate have not all lost our heads quite yet — even if the paranoid and extreme style of engagement today hints otherwise.

Core political values survive in the collective consciousness across age, income and racial lines. People still affirm the ideals of liberty, equality and progress, the poll found. That makes sense, since activists of all kinds these days like to call themselves libertarian or progressive and often evoke equal rights under the law.

Siena pollster Don Levy says that as politically divided as we are, "America still holds a common language consistent with our founding philosophy."

Reconciling those goals with specific policies and behaviors is, of course, the hard part, as is forever the case in America.


Billed as the American Values Survey, and published first in Newsday, Siena’s work finds 35% of the electorate to be left of center, 34% right of center, and 31% centrist, having a mixed set of views.

The left-right categories are shaped by responses to hot issues: voting, abortion, banning assault weapons, and proposed citizenship for immigrants.

For those given to fretting about our degree of disagreement, some questions yielded strong majority opinions that suggest that a meaningful consensus can be reached if Congress and state and local legislatures take most people's views to heart.

Sixty-three percent support a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally. Eighty-four percent favor federal legislation that would both protect voting rights and make it easier to vote. Sixty-one percent favor a federal ban on assault weapons.

The question beyond the survey becomes why these popular actions cannot be taken. That's a matter of party expedience and government control, not illuminated in any poll, but apparent when you follow events in Washington.

Political definition and process don’t fit checklists. We know from what we've seen — beyond this survey — that contrary to what their opponents may say, Republicans don’t wish to be seen as creating unneeded hurdles to voting. And contrary to what GOP leaders claim, Democrats do not support "open borders."

There is plenty of space for productive political coalitions that sidestep some people's dramatic dreams of a new Civil War.


In interviews with 90 Long Island candidates of both major parties leading up to Election Day 2021 on Tuesday, the Newsday editorial board heard few assertions that could be called patently exotic or crazy. One could see in the candidates' exchanges where cohesive progress looked possible on taxes, police reform, criminal enforcement, and housing development.

The Siena survey's results illustrate at a glance how people can be discouraged from running for office these days by the unfair reputational abuse they may have to endure.

A 22-year-old Colorado woman, described as an independent, said: "I would say just in general this past election, people were so polarized and now you politically can't really speak what you believe without at least one person in the room deciding that they hate you just because you agree with this political candidate versus this one."

One problem that our enduring political values have not prevented is evident in a question from Siena that its pollsters should never have had to ask:

"Do you think that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump or not?"

A resounding majority of 67% in the tristate area said no, as did 56% nationally. That majority can only grow as the one-year anniversary of Trump's convincing defeat at the polls approaches. In the region, 10% were listed as "unsure," and nationally, 13% said that.

"Are we divided?" asks pollster Levy. "Yes. Do we share core values? Absolutely. Are we proud to be Americans? For the most part. Do we think our great experiment will weather this storm? We’re somewhat hopeful, but concerned."

Maybe the mood of the country is moving a notch toward the politically pragmatic — despite continuing performance art from those who live for their social media, video and vanity.

If the cultural and political weather changes, the web-driven miasma of political paranoia and random suspicion may not last forever.

The sooner it lifts, the better.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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