Power Poll: Society’s divisions today are cause for concern

Members of several churches gather for a “Lilburn United” rally in Lilburn City Park July 24. They sought unity in the face of racial divisions that continue to dominate national headlines. KENT D. JOHNSON/kdjohnson@ajc.com
Members of several churches gather for a “Lilburn United” rally in Lilburn City Park July 24. They sought unity in the face of racial divisions that continue to dominate national headlines. KENT D. JOHNSON/kdjohnson@ajc.com

Most metro Atlanta community leaders believe the polarizing political scene has created a serious divide among Georgians that could worsen.

Nearly one in four say the friction and frustrations are hitting home and putting a strain on their relations with family members and friends, a new Atlanta Power Poll shows.

The poll is part of a nationwide survey that asks community leaders for their opinions on important local issues – including the fallout from the bitter 2020 presidential campaign and Democrat Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia.

The latest survey was taken Monday through Thursday (11/16 to 11/19), as Thanksgiving, a holiday traditionally built around large family gatherings, is fast approaching. It also was done just as the national spotlight focuses on Georgia as a red-turned-blue state with two U.S. Senate runoffs and the potential to change the balance of power in Washington.

Supporters of President Donald Trump attend a ' Stop The Steal ' rally at the Oregon State Capitol protesting the outcome of the election on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020 in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo/Paula Bronstein)
Supporters of President Donald Trump attend a ' Stop The Steal ' rally at the Oregon State Capitol protesting the outcome of the election on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020 in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo/Paula Bronstein)

Credit: Paula Bronstein

Credit: Paula Bronstein

Sent via email to 886 metro Atlanta business, political and community leaders, the three-question survey does not have the precision of a scientific poll. It is meant to provide insight into the thinking of metro Atlanta leaders, 129 or 14.56% of whom responded.

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, a poll participant, said the current political divide is as much about opinions and politics as it is about a shortage of civil discourse and leaders who promote listening and collaboration in the development of public policy.

“This is aside from the partisanship on national politics,” she wrote in an email.

About 65% of the survey’s participants described Georgia’s political divide as “serious” or “very serious,” with some expecting tensions to go from bad to worse. Among the 65%, nearly half saw most Georgians aligning with the Republican or Democratic camp and leaving few in the middle.

About half of the respondents said they have largely been able to steer clear of problems on the home front by avoiding the subject of politics when talking with friends and family. About 27% said they are “pretty much” on the same page as those they are closest to, while about 23% said the divisive political climate has put a strain on their relationships with friends and loved ones.

T-shirts in support of President-elect Joe Biden and President Trump are on display at T-Shirt World, Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
T-shirts in support of President-elect Joe Biden and President Trump are on display at T-Shirt World, Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Credit: Alex Brandon

Credit: Alex Brandon

An overwhelming majority agreed on the need to mend fences and move forward. Seventy-two percent said community and government leaders should be models of civil behavior and of acceptance of those who disagree with them. Another 26 percent said community and political leaders need to show a willingness to compromise.

Supporters of President-elect Joe Biden face off over barriers against supporters of President Donald Trump protesting outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, a day after the 2020 election was called for Democrat Biden. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Supporters of President-elect Joe Biden face off over barriers against supporters of President Donald Trump protesting outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, a day after the 2020 election was called for Democrat Biden. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Credit: Rebecca Blackwell

Credit: Rebecca Blackwell

“We agree on a lot more things than we disagree about,” Kevin Green, president and CEO of Midtown Alliance, wrote in an email to Power Poll. “Let’s build on that foundation.”

Julia Bernath, president of the Fulton County Board of Education, said leadership is needed now not only because of the transition of political power but also due to the pandemic.

“It is up to each of us to work to heal our communities and find common ground around which people can rally and build to help us move forward,” she said in an email.

Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan, Dunwoody said top leaders must set the tone.

“How can our leaders expect everyone to come together if they refuse to set an example for the rest of us?” he wrote in an email.

Atlanta Regional Commission Executive Director Doug Hooker said civil behavior and compromise are both needed to “restore any sense of trust that our form of democracy will work.

“Agreeing to compromise but lacking civility means we are teaching children that there is no useful role or purpose for civility,” Hooker said. “Let’s see how well that works in our classrooms and boardrooms.”

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The questions and responses:

How serious do you believe the divide in Georgia is now?

Overstated: We’re all Georgians and have plenty of common ground. 3.1%

Serious: Things are bad now and may get worse.

36.43

Somewhat overstated: Things seem worse than they are because of the election.

31.78

Very serious: We are now a red state or blue state with little in the middle.

28.68

Have you personally become distant from friends or family over politics?

Yes: My relationships with friends or family members have been strained.

23.26%

No: My friends and family all pretty much agree on things.

26.36%

Somewhat: We just avoid talking about politics.

50.39%

What responsibility do community and political leaders have to heal the divide?

To model civil behavior and demonstrate acceptance of those who disagree with them.

72.09%

To show a willingness to compromise.

26.36%

The most important thing is for leaders to stick by their positions no matter what.

1.55%

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Comments

“Leaders – community, political, or spiritual: We must purposely reach out and determine what can be done to heal the state, community by community.” -- Vivian Thomas, Henry County commissioner.

“We actually do have more in common than we think. It’s a shame that we have to identify as being red or blue; we should work for the common good for all.” -- Jessie Goree, Clayton County school board chair.

“The post-World War II political model was to govern between the 40-yard line markers. Now, both political parties are attempting to govern from their own end zones. The result is relentless domestic hostility with no ability to compromise in sight.” -- Randy Lewis, managing director and co-owner of Fitzpatrick & Lewis Public Relations.

“Georgians are divided on many issues but yet can find common ground when debating economic prosperity for everyone. We should pledge to elect state leaders who can find ways to unite us versus divide us. This is not easy work but would be extremely rewarding to those that can figure it out.” -- A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress.

“Regardless of positions held, Georgians are better than what politics and media portray. Human kindness in the face of differing views can lead to opportunity. No one should retreat from their beliefs or political views unless informed study guides them to do so, but kindness and civility can transcend politics in Georgia.” -- Ron Freeman, Forsyth County sheriff.

“I appreciate you bringing up this topic! I have observed some polarization in recent years, and I am concerned. As an educational leader, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of modeling civil behavior for our young minds to create a better world for all of us.” -- Kenan Sener, head of the Fulton Science Academy.

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