The sharp lines and stagnant views are evident in public opinion on gun laws, abortion, health care, taxes and the federal budget deficit — on which polling has long shown wide divergence. The Pew Research Center reports that partisan polarization on basic policy questions is at its highest point in 25 years.
One exception has been support for gay marriage. In May of 2008 as Obama was wrapping up the Democratic nomination, just 40 percent of Americans told Gallup's pollsters same-sex marriages should be recognized by the law as valid. This May, 50 percent said yes to the same question, the most striking shift in social attitudes during Obama's presidency. Still, more than 30 states have passed measures against it and it's frequently a losing issue at the ballot box. There are no united states on this question.
Polarization doesn't stop at politics or policy, either. It appears to be embedded in personal relationships. A pre-convention Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll found Democrats and Republicans tend to be surrounded by fellow partisans — two-thirds of their friends and family share their party leanings.
Many of us belong to tribes tinted red or blue.
WHAT WE EARN
Few could have seen it coming back when Bill Clinton was scrambling to salvage his presidency from the Monica Lewinsky business, but his later years in office are starting to look like one of the economy's golden ages. Unemployment was low, the government miraculously took in what it spent and the stock market marched steadily upward, at least until the bubble burst.
Household income peaked in 1999, at $53,252 in today's dollars, and has declined since, to $49,445 in 2010. That puts households back to where they were in the mid-1990s.
But an even bigger rewind to an earlier time seems to be happening with the poor.
In July, The Associated Press found a broad consensus among economists and scholars that the official poverty rate is on track to reach its highest level in nearly half a century, erasing distinct — if modest — gains from the 1960s "war on poverty" that expanded the safety net with the introduction of Medicaid, Medicare and other social welfare programs.
The wealth gap between younger and older has grown into an unprecedented divide. Older people always have more net worth than younger adults on average, but now those 65 and over have 47 times more than adults under 35. It used to be only 10 times more, a quarter-century ago.
Overall, the value of goods and services produced in the country has returned to pre-recession levels, though with 5 million fewer people working. That makes the U.S. more productive and competitive. But when combined with meager income gains during that time, it also suggests we're working harder for roughly the same pay.
WHAT WE PAY
Housing prices have dropped by a striking 34 percent since late 2006. That's good if — only if — you're buying.
Tuition is up 15 percent at four-year public universities and almost 10 percent at private four-year institutions from 2008 to 2010.
Gas? It's a rollercoaster. The U.S. saw 91 cents a gallon only 13 years ago, during Clinton's presidency. The average price hit $2 in May 2004, $4 in June 2008, then plunged before that year's election, spiked and rollercoastered along, sitting now at $3.74 a gallon.
In 2008, workers paid an average of $3,354 for a year's worth of job-based health insurance, more than double their cost from nine years earlier, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported. In 2011, that average grew to $4,129. Not only did premiums rise, but many more workers were picking up the first $1,000 or more of health care costs as deductibles grew and employers shifted more health costs to employees.
WHO WE WERE
Norman Rockwell's America may have come and gone, if it ever existed, but the much younger nation de Tocqueville, the French philosopher, saw in his 1830s travels is still recognizable in its older age. For all the new colors, bold strokes of the past still show.