The two-party system tends to force us to think about the political spectrum as an either/or proposition. Team Red versus Team Blue; two massed armies fighting over the 50-yard line. There's at least some truth to that, with steadily increasing polarization, fewer ticket-splitters and more people buying entirely into liberal or conservative agendas instead of picking and choosing policies.
However, each of the two parties is still a big tent, composed of people with a variety of world views. Traditionally, it's the Democratic Party that's been the fractious one, barely holding together a coalition of unionists, people of color, educated professionals, elderly New Dealers and more. Lately, though, it's the various wings of the Republican Party that have been at each other's throats, usually depicted as a struggle between the country-club establishment versus the tea-partying rabble. And even the ill-defined independents have their diverse camps, with some more libertarian, some just angry and disengaged.
The Pew Research Center has been the expert chronicler of these divisions for many decades, through their "Typologies," which break the nation's voters down into eight or nine groups. Several times a decade, they revise the categories to keep up with the evolving electorate, and this week they released the newest edition. (The previous version dates back to 2011.)
This time, there are eight categories, each representing between 10 and 15 percent of the general public. Two are reliably Republican (Steadfast Conservatives and Business Conservatives), one is reliably Democratic (Solid Liberals). Four groups are less partisan, although two lean considerably in the Democratic direction (Next Generation Left and Faith and Family Left), one leans more in the Republican direction (Young Outsiders), and one is split right down the middle and angry at everybody (Hard-Pressed Skeptics). Finally, there's the group of Bystanders, who represent 10 percent of the population but 0 percent of the registered voters; they're the ones who simply aren't participating in the political process.
If you're hanging out here at Daily Kos (and aren't here for trolling purposes), most likely you're a Solid Liberal; you can find out which of the categories you're in by taking their quiz. Solid Liberals, who represent 15 percent of the population, are not only the most consistently liberal group (taking the left position on a wide array of policy questions), but they're also the most politically engaged and informed of the Democratic-leaning groups. They're one of the best-educated and most affluent of the groups, and, interestingly, also the most optimistic about the country's future (something you wouldn't necessarily guess by reading the comments here, but, of course, it's a wider sample than just us). Seventy percent of Solid Liberals say the United States' best days are "ahead of us" and only 22 percent say they're "behind us"—that's an even better ratio than the more millennial-heavy Next Generation Left. As you might expect, the Staunch Conservatives have the most dour attitude, opting 76/20 for the choice that our best days behind us.
There's more over the fold...
The rest of the Democratic coalition is composed of the Next Generation Left and the Faith and Family Left. The Next Generation Left is, as the name implies, more distinguished by their age (52 percent under 40, compared with 41 percent under 40 for Solid Liberals). They agree with Solid Liberals on cultural and scope-of-government issues, and are particularly favorable toward immigration, but also tend to be more credulous of one's ability to get ahead if one works hard, and they're more skeptical of government's ability to help the needy.
On the other hand, the Faith and Family Left tend to be older, but also more likely to be non-white and characterized more by social conservatism. They're with the Solid Liberals on economic issues, but less tolerant of homosexuality and generally more religious. (Among Solid Liberals, only 5 percent are evangelical, while 41 percent are "unaffiliated." Fifty-nine percent of Faith and Family Left are some variety of Protestant, while only 7 percent are "unaffiliated.")
Interestingly, there were nine typologies in Pew's previous version from 2011: the group that seems to have been axed is the "Post-Moderns," who were a young, diverse and tolerant, but economically laissez-faire, group. The more upbeat members of the Post-Moderns seem to have been added to the previous mostly minority group New Coalition Democrats to form the current Next Generation Left, while the more hands-off Post-Moderns seem to have been parceled out to the former Libertarian typology to form the broader Young Outsiders group. The Young Outsiders aren't uniformly libertarian or Paulist in outlook, but they are generally characterized by being socially tolerant and in favor of an isolationist foreign policy, hostile to both parties, but skeptical of government to the extent that they're a Republican-leaning group.
The last independent group is the Hard-Pressed Skeptics (formerly called the Disaffecteds)—the least-educated and least politically involved group and perhaps the most hard-hit economically. This may be the most changeable (or incoherent, if you prefer) group; the majority of them voted for Barack Obama, but now have nearly Republican level of disapproval for him. And while they believe in the unfairness of the economic system and have similar levels of dislike for Wall Street as the Solid Liberals, they also have deep distrust of government, and a level of dislike for immigrants similar to Steadfast Conservatives.
Which brings us to the two groups of consistent, politically engaged conservative, and, hoo boy, the battle lines in the Republican civil war show up clearer than ever in the new typologies. On the one hand, you have the affluent and educated Business Conservatives (formerly the Main Street Conservatives last time), who are most strongly motivated by economic issues, and the Steadfast Conservatives, who add a more socially conservative element.
While the Steadfast Conservatives are nearly as aggressive as the Business Conservatives in their disdain for spending on a social safety net and a tendency to blame the poor for their condition, that's the main glue holding them together. While Business Conservatives love the market (they say Wall Street "helps" more than "hurts" the economy by a 74/17 margin), Steadfast Conservatives express skepticism (they break down 49/41 on that question, which in fact puts them to the left of Next Generation Left, who say "helps" by a 56/33 margin). Similarly, 71 percent of Steadfasts say that "too much power is concentrated in hands of too few companies," which puts them much closer to, well, everybody else rather than the Business Conservatives (only 35 percent of whom agree). It would give us some hope of actually pulling them away from the Republican coalition ... if it weren't for their attitudes on religion and race.
The Steadfast Conservatives also break with the Business Conservatives on foreign policy. (Steadfasts say, by a 71/24 margin, that we should "focus more at home," while Business Conservatives say, by a 67/28 margin, that it's best "to be active in world affairs.") The split is even stronger on immigration; Steadfasts say, by a 81/13 margin, that newcomers "threaten American customs/values," while Business Conservatives say, by a 72/20 margin, that newcomers "strengthen American society."
Really what sums up the divide, though, is simply how they feel about compromise itself, which is ultimately what the recent primary eruptions in Mississippi and Virginia were about, more than any one policy. Steadfast Conservatives opt 62/33 in saying they like elected officials to "stick to their positions," while Business Conservatives prefer, by a 52/43 margin, those who "make compromises." (As we discussed several weeks ago, when Pew's polarization study came out, Solid Liberals make up the group most favoring compromise: 84/11! That, of course, undercuts their ideological consistency when it's down to brass tacks at the negotiating table.)
So while we've already seen the impact of the different typologies on the recent primaries, what does this all mean for the upcoming general election in November? Luckily, Pew asks its respondents not only how they voted in 2012, but also what they plan to do in November. Unfortunately, it shows us what we're up against: while 52 percent of the respondents voted for Barack Obama in 2012, only 44 percent plan to vote Democratic in 2014. (Democrats still lead on the generic ballot; the GOP is at only 42 percent. So it's less a case of people switching, and more the typical curse of the midterm: a case of the less-motivated groups in the Democratic coalition simply planning to stay home.)
However, the Next Generation Left and the Faith and Family Left are, ideologically speaking, more solidly in the Democratic camp. These are the young and/or non-white voters who just tend not to show up for midterms, and that's exactly what they're saying they'll do again. The GOP isn't gaining shares among them, but the overall participation is down. Among the Next Generation Left, who voted 70-26 for Obama in 2012, they're coming in 61-27 for Democrats in 2014. And among the Faith and Family Left, who voted 75-21 for Obama in 2012, they're coming in 63-27 for Democrats this year. In case you needed one more piece of evidence for the Democrats' need to focus on micro-targeting and face-to-face GOTV contacts to get these once-every-four-years voters to turn out this year, there it is.
As always, Pew's write-ups are some of the most information-rich material you'll read anywhere, and I encourage you to click through to read the whole thing; there are literally dozens more fascinating charts that I don't have the room to reproduce. And of course, I encourage you take the quiz (which, granted, is somewhat frustrating in the either/or nature of the questions), and, if you'd like, report below what group you fall into.