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NBC News

A new NBC News/Esquire poll shows that a majority of Americans are now in the political center. NBC News political director Chuck Todd discusses the findings with Matt Lauer.

It’s the most conventional wisdom in Washington, the unchallenged idea that America is a divided nation, a country ripped into red and blue factions in perpetual conflict. The government shutdown this fall would seem like only the latest evidence of this political civil war. But is the idea of two Americas even true? Not according to a new Esquire-NBC News survey.

At the center of national sentiment there’s no longer a chasm but a common ground where a diverse and growing majority – 51 percent  - is bound by a surprising set of shared ideas.

“Just because Washington is polarized doesn’t mean America is,” says Robert Blizzard, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies, the lead pollster for Mitt Romney in 2012. His firm co-created the survey with the Benenson Strategy Group, pollsters for President Obama, and the result is a nation in eight distinct segments: two on the far right (“The Righteous Right” and “The Talk Radio Heads”), two on the far left (“The Bleeding Hearts” and “The Gospel Left”), and four in the middle that represent nothing less than a new American center (“Minivan Moderates,” “The MBA Middle,” “The Pick-up Populists, and “The #WhateverMan.”)

The people of the center are patriotic and proud, with a strong majority (66 percent) saying that America is still the greatest country in the world, and most (54 percent) calling it a model that other countries should emulate. But the center is also very nervous about the future, overwhelmingly saying that America can no longer afford to spend money on foreign aid (81 percent) when we need to build up our own country.

Take an interactive quiz to find out where you stand

Pluralities believe that the political system is broken (49 percent), and the economy is bad (50 percent) and likely to stay that way a while (41 percent). Majorities fear another 9/11 or Boston-style bombing is likely (70 percent), and that their children’s lives will be more difficult than their own (62 percent), which are either stuck in place or getting worse (84 percent) — while the rich keep getting richer at the expense of everyone else (70 percent).

The new American center has a socially progressive streak, supporting gay marriage (64 percent), the right to an abortion for any reason within the first trimester (63 percent), and legalized marijuana (52 percent). Women, workers and the marginal would also benefit if the center had its way, supporting paid sick leave (62 percent); paid maternity leave (70 percent); tax-subsidized childcare to help women return to work (57 percent); and a federal minimum wage hike to no less than $10 per hour (67 percent).

But the center leans rightward on the environment, capital punishment, and diversity programs. Majorities support offshore drilling (81 percent) and the death penalty (64 percent), and the end of affirmative action in hiring and education (57 percent). Most people in the center believe respect for minority rights has gone overboard, in general, harming the majority in the process (63 percent). And just one in four support immigration reforms that would provide a path to citizenship for those who came here illegally.

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