Is America really more divided than ever before?

Since 2016, over and over again, one statement has been echoed ad infinitum. “We as a country are more divided than ever before.” Yet recently, I’ve begun to wonder if that’s really true. Now, we as a nation are certainly divided. There’s no question about that. But over the past 20 years, has it ever been much better? It’s worth taking a look at the past to find out.

Let’s start with today, and the 45th president of the United States. Donald J. Trump is perhaps the most divisive figure in the country at this moment in time. Ask a member of the Democratic Party, and you’ll certainly hear that things are worse than ever. Over his first 2 years in offie, the president has a 7 percent approval rating among Democrats while in office. As for Republicans, he sits at 86 percent. Lot’s of the fighting today is over the values of American culture, corruption, and identity politics. Yes, there is a clear division, but that is not uncommon for most presidencies.

By looking back at Barack Obama’s presidency, you can see an almost identical divide across party lines. Through his first two years in office, Obama had a 95 percent approval rating among members of his own party vs. a 14 percent approval rating among Republicans. The division then came from birtherism, healthcare and government regulations, among other things. Perhaps the arguments were different, but the schisms were still there.

Even looking back to nearly 20 years ago, George W. Bush had around the same number of supporters and detractors his successors would. In 2002, the younger Bush had 75 percent job approval among Republicans compared to 9 percent among Democrats. The arguments at the beginning of the 21st century — largely concerning the policies of post 9/11 America — clearly marked a dividing line between the two parties.

To be fair, the parties will always have differences, and a poll can’t capture the entire mood of a country,  the nuances in the debates or even how loudly and forcefully the opposition disagree with each other. But to suggest the stark divide between the nations two primary parties is something new suggests a fundamental issue with how we look back at recent history. Division has always been apart of American society. Now, that doesn’t mean we should not attempt to bridge the divides between us, but that we must first acknowledge that we may never have been as unified as we’d like to believe.

*All poll numbers according to Gallup