What gives life meaning? Many Republicans and Democrats give same answer

Family over everything, including politics.

Democrats and Republicans have a number of differences when it comes to what gives them meaning in life, a recent Pew Research Center survey found, but one thing that doesn’t divide Americans is how important family is to keeping them going.

About half of both Democratic and Republican respondents mentioned family and children when asked by researchers, “What about your life do you currently find meaningful, fulfilling or satisfying? What keeps you going and why?” It was the top response to the open-ended question for people of both parties in the survey, which was conducted in February 2021 among nearly 3,000 American adults and released last week.

A number of other topics came up for both Democrats and Republicans. Respondents of both parties mentioned friends, community and other relationships; material well-being, stability and quality of life; and their occupation and career among their top five responses.

But Americans also had a few significant differences by party.

Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to mention spirituality, faith, religion and freedom, using words like “God,” “freedom,” “country” and “Americans.”

“Life without Jesus is meaningless, sad and hopeless,” a Republican man told respondents. “It is only through a daily relationship with Christ that joy, love, peace and goodness can be found.”

Democrats were more likely than Republicans to mention hobbies and recreation, using words like “reading,” “nature,” “dog” and “new” (as in “new” experiences or meeting new people. They were also much more likely to mention COVID-19 in the context of the country or their community, which Pew said suggests “that for Democrats, the pandemic has more of a societal dimension than for Republicans.”

Word clouds created by Pew Research Center

This partisan divide over the meaning of life appears to be an especially American phenomenon.

Pew found in most other 16 countries it surveyed, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Japan, there was little difference in how people spoke about what made their lives fulfilling, depending on their support for the party in power.

The think tank mentioned just two minor exceptions: Conservatives in the United Kingdom who were slightly more likely to say material well-being brought them meaning, and Democratic Progressive Party supporters in Taiwan who were more likely to mention freedom.

While just 2% of Americans mentioned a politician who gave their life meaning, that’s not something that happened in other countries. The U.S. was also the only country where more than one respondent mentioned a government leader, Pew said.

One Republican woman told researchers she found meaning in “the strength and backbone taught to me by President Trump — the meaning of standing up fiercely in the face of idiocy,” while a Democratic man said he found meaning in “Less racial inequality. Less Donald Trump and his fanatics.”

Pew’s findings show America’s partisan divide is unique to our political culture and not inevitable.

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