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Beyond “Liberal” And “Conservative”: A New Political Typology

The Pew Research Center has developed what it calls a new political typology in order to more accurately classify where Americans stand politically:

The most visible shift in the political landscape since Pew Research’s previous political typology in early 2005 is the emergence of a single bloc of across-the-board conservatives. The long-standing divide between economic, pro-business conservatives and social conservatives has blurred. Today, Staunch Conservatives take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues – on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns. Most agree with the Tea Party and even more very strongly disapprove of Barack Obama’s job performance. A second core group of Republicans – Main Street Republicans - also is conservative, but less consistently so.

On the left, Solid Liberals express diametrically opposing views from the Staunch Conservatives on virtually every issue. While Solid Liberals are predominantly white, minorities make up greater shares of New Coalition Democrats - who include nearly equal numbers 0f whites, African Americans and Hispanics – and Hard-Pressed Democrats, who are about a third African American. Unlike Solid Liberals, both of these last two groups are highly religious and socially conservative. New Coalition Democrats are distinguished by their upbeat attitudes in the face of economic struggles.

Independents have played a determinative role in the last three national elections. But the three groups in the center of the political typology have very little in common, aside from their avoidance of partisan labels. Libertarians and Post-Moderns are largely white, well-educated and affluent. They also share a relatively secular outlook on some social issues, including homosexuality and abortion. But Republican-oriented Libertarians are far more critical of government, less supportive of environmental regulations, and more supportive of business than are Post-Moderns, most of whom lean Democratic.

Disaffecteds, the other main group of independents, are financially stressed and cynical about politics. Most lean to the Republican Party, though they differ from the core Republican groups in their support for increased government aid to the poor. Another group in the center, Bystanders, largely consign themselves to the political sidelines and for the most part are not included in this analysis.

Based on its polling here’s how Pew says these various groups break down as a percentage of the population:

Not surprisingly, the survey also finds that the divide between the parties over the issue of the role of government has deepened in recent years:

The new typology finds a deep and continuing divide between the two parties, as well as differences within both partisan coalitions. But the nature of the partisan divide has changed substantially over time.

More than in the recent past, attitudes about government separate Democrats from Republicans, and it is these beliefs that are most correlated with political preferences looking ahead to 2012. In 2005, at the height of the Iraq war and shortly after an election in which national security was a dominant issue, opinions about assertiveness in foreign affairs almost completely distinguished Democrats from Republicans. Partisan divisions over national security remain, but in an era when the public’s focus is more inward-looking, they are less pronounced.

Additionally, there seems to be one thing that most strongly unites the various parts of the Republican coalition, and it isn’t adherence to a core set of principles:

The survey suggests that while the Tea Party is a galvanizing force on the right, strong disapproval of Barack Obama is an even more powerful unifying factor among fervent conservatives. No fewer than 84% of Staunch Conservatives strongly disapprove of Obama’s job performance and 70% rate him very unfavorably personally. Ardent support for Obama on the left is no match for this – 64% of Solid Liberals strongly approve of him, and 45% rate him very favorably.

On the whole, Pew seems to have developed a fairly accurate description of the electorate. The names don’t matter so much as the rather obvious fact that the labels “liberal,” “conservative,” and “moderate/independent” simply aren’t sufficient to describe the political ideology of everyone in the country. Additionally, as Bruce McQuain notes, the survey itself is conformation of the fact that both political parties need to find ways to appeal to the political “middle” in order to win elections, however that political middle is made up disparate groups itself:

Quite obviously, the “Libertarians,” and a good portion of the “Disaffecteds” seem to hold attitudes and opinions that would more naturally incline them to the right and the GOP as long as the right doesn’t over-emphasize social issues like homosexuality. The “Post-Moderns” are a more difficult bunch and, while they seem to describe their politics as mostly “Moderate,” they seem like a group that would by more inclined to look left-ward for politicians to support.

One area of concern for Republicans, though, is the fact that a good part of their coalition seems to be older, and much less diverse:

As the nation becomes more diverse, and those older voters die off, the GOP could find itself facing some serious problems. For example, Hispanics, the fastest growing minority group int he nation, comprise only 7% of the core GOP groups and 16% of the GOP-leaning Independent groups. If those numbers continue into the future, the GOP is likely to find itself in trouble both nationwide and in states with large and growing Hispanic populations.

There’s much more at the link and in the report itself (PDF) to entertain the political geeks out there. Additionally, you can take a 20 question quiz to see which of the eight groups you fit into. For me, not surprisingly, it was the Libertarians. Feel free to put your own answers in the comments.

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Billy says:

    I think the types are spot on. Other than the arch conservative trolls here, my money is that most readers will be libertarians and post-moderns.

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  2. hey norm says:

    Don’t like labels. Making more of them doesn’t seem to help judging by this.

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  3. Contracts says:

    This looks great. Good work by Pew.

    But…

    Odds that more than 50 people will be using these labels two weeks from now?

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  4. PD Shaw says:

    I prefer their previous typology, and I thought the quiz was pretty bad in presenting fairly extreme positions without giving a a more tempered option (somewhat agree), particularly the issues of race, poverty and regulation. I think I was reacting to the response that offended me more than the response closest to my position.

    It identifies me as a libertarian, which would be a first for me. Under Pew’s last typology I was an Upbeat.

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  5. PD Shaw says:

    hey norm sounds disafected

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  6. John Burgess says:

    I’m going to have to self-identify as somewhere between Libertarian and Main Street Republican.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  7. Vast Variety says:

    I took the quiz and ended up in the Post-Moderns, which reading the description fits me pretty good.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  8. Eric says:

    I got pegged as a libertarian, which I don’t really have a problem with but I don’t agree with typical libertarian thinking on foreign policy. I think the main thing that probably pushes me over to libertarian is my lack of strong religious affiliations.

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  9. PJ says:

    @Doug:

    Quite obviously, the “Libertarians,” and a good portion of the “Disaffecteds” seem to hold attitudes and opinions that would more naturally incline them to the right and the GOP as long as the right doesn’t over-emphasize social issues like homosexuality.

    Haven’t read the PDF yet, but from what’s available here, I’d agree with “Libertarians”, but it doesn’t seem to be true at all for the “Disaffecteds”. They do seem like a group voting against what would be in their own interests, except for the republican stance on homosexuality.

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  10. michael reynolds says:

    Apparently I’m a post-modern.

    I demand a rewrite on the name.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. PJ says:

    @PJ:

    Haven’t read the PDF yet, but from what’s available here, I’d agree with “Libertarians”, but it doesn’t seem to be true at all for the “Disaffecteds”. They do seem like a group voting against what would be in their own interests, except for the republican stance on homosexuality.

    Having read the PDF, I would now say that the “Disaffecteds” don’t have a home in either party.

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  12. Axel Edgren says:

    Solid liberal, of course. I still think the poll was uncreative.

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  13. john personna says:

    I love these systems and quizzes. I probably get more of a kick out of them than I should, given their limitations.

    Post-Modern.

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  14. Kylopod says:

    >Independents have played a determinative role in the last three national elections.

    Really? W. actually lost the independent vote in ’04 while winning the election. For example, look here, under “vote by ideology”:

    http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2004/pages/results/states/US/P/00/epolls.0.html

    Similarly, Gore lost the indie vote in 2000 but won the popular vote.

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  15. PD Shaw says:

    John Personna, there are better quizzes. For instance, how can you measure a person’s moderation without questions that permit a moderate response?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. george says:

    I’m a post-modern according to the quiz.

    Which makes me suspect the quiz is seriously flawed – a post-modernist physicist is a contradiction in terms.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. john personna says:

    I admit that bothered me in the beginning, when I first started taking these quzzes, PD.

    But I decided that it was fair. After all, if you want to tell the difference between michael and I, you want to ask hard enough questions to get us to split. Put another way, it’s a bucket sort. Given some small number of buckets (9 here) you only have to ask the questions that force people to assign themselves. Perhaps their goal was to find something, anything, that would force people into these relatively small groupings (10-15% each).

    Are we Post-Moderns really alike? Perhaps, but if so, the real michael is more pragmatic than the character he plays on OTB.

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  18. Ben says:

    wow, some off those questions were terrible. On at least 4 of them, I found both views equally awful.

    I came out Post Modernist, which I guess I won’t dispute. But man, I hate the name.

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  19. Rock says:

    The survey is screwed up beyond listing typical and predictable democrat talking points. The results shown for me had nothing much to do with questions on the survey, especially when it showed the direct opposite of the way I answered the questions. Pew Research should be called Phew Research.

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  20. Tlaloc says:

    am I reading the first chart right? Disaffecteds self identify as conservative but they want the government to do more to help the needy, think corporations make too much money, and want the government to protect the environment/ Whozajiggawhazza?

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  21. Tlaloc says:

    no surprise they categorize me as Solid Liberal

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  22. jwest says:

    Just to show how far off this quiz was, it placed both Doug and I in the same category.

    I feel like showering now.

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  23. mantis says:

    Apparently I’m a post-modern.

    I demand a rewrite on the name.

    Me too, and me too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. mantis says:

    Just to show how far off this quiz was, it placed both Doug and I in the same category.

    I feel like showering now.

    Yes, well, the categories weren’t based upon how much you love Sarah Palin, so I can see how you might be confused.

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  25. john personna says:

    Maybe “Post-Modern” is a bad name, if it makes you see “Modernist” (which isn’t actually on the page).

    Age also is a factor in partisanship and political values. Younger people are more numerous on the left, and older people on the right. However, many young people think of themselves as independents rather than as Democrats. Post-Moderns, Democratic-oriented independents, are by far the youngest group in the typology, but they often deviate from traditional Democratic orthodoxy and are not consistent voters.

    I certainly don’t identify with Democrats, but I do judge them less harshly. They tend only to be fools, as opposed to Republican knaves.

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  26. PD Shaw says:

    I went back and tried to re-answer the questions and then tinker with the party i.d.

    I remain a libertarian unless i pick “Strong Democrat,” in which case I become a New Coalition Democrat, or I pick “Strong Republican” in which case I become a Staunch Conservative.

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  27. ponce says:

    Haha, the quiz rated me a “Libertarian.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. Rock says:

    Take the survey and don’t identify your political leanings. Example: I chose strong conservative responses and didn’t identify political afflictions and the response was that I was a Libertarian. Without changing my responses I identified as a strong democrat. Result was Libertarian. And as a strong Republican the result was Staunch Conservative. In each case the conclusions changed and hardly resembled correct conclusions based on my choices. My conclusion about the survey is that somebody at Phew Research is trying to hold onto a job or otherwise impress his boss or sweetheart with his/her BS skills.

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  29. john personna says:

    But obviously political identity is important. As we see here every day, peoples’ in-group identity shapes their views. There is a wealth of data on this.

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  30. An Interested Party says:

    They tend only to be fools, as opposed to Republican knaves.

    The stupid party and the evil party, eh?

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  31. G.A.Phillips says:

    Staunch Conservative. But that crap was written by a liberal
    so it sucks and doesn’t tell about the real me:(

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  32. Franklin says:

    Post-modern, although I really think I probably straddle the edge with Libertarian.

    The stupid name reminds me of a class in college where the final exam was to regurgitate the professor’s own theory on post-modernism. It’s easy to regurgitate, though, so I got an A.

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  33. Franklin says:

    I remain a libertarian unless i pick “Strong Democrat,” in which case I become a New Coalition Democrat, or I pick “Strong Republican” in which case I become a Staunch Conservative.

    Wow, that seems to have an overly significant weighting.

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  34. Raoul says:

    As a liberal Puertorrican, I have to say that there are a lot of Republican Puertorricans due to social and economic issues including the current governor-why the current Gop does not pursue this is beyond me- granted mainland Puertorricans are solid Democrats but the same is not for the island and when the island becomes a state I will not be surprise if one of the senators was a Republican.

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  35. john personna says:

    “Wow, that seems to have an overly significant weighting.”

    Really, think about it. If you describe yourself as “Strong Democrat” you are saying you toe the line. Similarly, Strong Republican.

    On the other hand, someone who self-identifies independent is saying that they don’t give automatic buy-in to either party’s policies. They view them both with at least some suspicion.

    So no, the idea that you can mess up a poll by actually lying doesn’t mean the poll was wrong. Though, with a dozen questions or so it certainly isn’t sophisticated enough to capture cheats.

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  36. john personna says:

    “The stupid party and the evil party, eh?”

    We could tone it down to naivete versus unenlightened self-interest ;-)

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  37. Jay Tea says:

    Huh. I’m a “libertarian” too.

    One major flaw in it — one that betrays a liberal bias — is in the immigration questions. I — and a lot of others — simultaneously believe in easing immigration restrictions and allowing in more immigrants — combined with a draconian crackdown on illegal immigrants. Carrot and stick; make it easier to come in legally and far more risky to do so illegally. But like so many liberals, these pollsters conflate legal and illegal immigrants into the same category.

    They are NOT the same, and to lump them together is a gross insult.

    J.

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  38. john personna says:

    Jay Tea, your position is similar to GWBs’ which I supported.

    The thing is, cast your mind back, the whole of the right convulsed. It was a wedge issue that split the right from the President.

    So no, don’t see liberal bias behind that bush (no pun intended).

    Most on the right really do want less immigration, esp. from Mexico.

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  39. Rob in CT says:

    I thought the questions sucked, or at least many of them. Plus, only providing two extremes to pick from sucked. Garbage in, garbage out, IMO.

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  40. [...] Beyond “Liberal” And “Conservative”: A New Political Typology (outsidethebeltway.com) [...]

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  41. Jay Tea says:

    That ain’t how I remember it, john. I remember hearing Bush say it, recognizing that he was saying what I’d been saying for some time, and then the left doing their traditional conflation of legal and illegal immigrants, saying that it was impossible to be for one and not the other, and doing their standard low-key push for amnesty by small steps — the DREAM Act was the camel’s nose this time.

    And Bush’s position (which was mine first!) got shoved aside as liberals focused on the “crack down on illegals” for direct attacks, and crippled the “ease restrictions on legals” by shackling it with amnesty provisions.

    At least, that’s how it went down as I recall it.

    J.

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  42. john personna says:

    Google “GOP Bush immigration”

    Top stories are on the split.

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