The usual way of writing about politics, at least at the mainstream media level (and even here at Daily Kos, for the most part), is to frame it is as two massive teams, one red and one blue, facing off at the nation’s 50-yard line. Maybe the framing includes a few unicorn-like “swing voters” in the middle, who can make the difference in a close election, but the usual depiction is two homogeneous masses with uniform beliefs in total opposition to each other.
Of course, that gets harder and harder to reconcile with the many sub-stories published about the conflict within the two parties, whether it’s presidential primaries or conflict within their congressional caucuses, or just man-in-a-diner color pieces. Traditionally it’s been the Democratic Party that’s been presented as the fractious one, a coalition of special interests. And certainly the bad vibes of the 2016 presidential primary showed that the Democrats are far from being on the same page on everything.
As of late, however, it’s been undeniable that the Republicans are the ones with the open fissures getting stressed to the breaking point — especially after the Republican Party became the dog that caught the car with the election of Donald Trump. But really, this narrative has been rising all decade, since the beginnings of the “Tea Party” movement and the bonkers primaries that it spawned.
The Pew Research Center regularly delves much more deeply into issue polling than other pollsters, and one of the most interesting things they release are their “political typologies,” which attempt to break down the population beyond merely the color of their jerseys, and group the different members of each coalition according to their different beliefs. The “typologies” aren’t just the result of pundit-ing and pulling clever new terms out of the air, but rather they are based on polling thousands of respondents on dozens of binary issue questions, and using a statistical regression technique called “cluster analysis” to group the respondents according to their commonalities.
Pew came out this week with their 2017 installment in their ongoing series, which is, as always, worth a careful read (for reference, you might look back at the 2014 and 2011 versions to see how their framework has changed). Maybe the most significant change is that in previous years, they’ve always described some of the clusters as independents, or at least as less predictably partisan. This year, every group (except for the Bystanders, the most disaffected, non-voting portion of the population) gets assigned to the Democratic or Republican camp.
The different typologies are color-coded so they’re a somewhat darker or lighter shade of red or blue, but the growing divergence between Dems and GOP with nobody in the middle reflects the way that there are fewer moderates and fewer “swing voters,” and that the parties themselves are growing further apart from each other on political values. (That may seem internally contradictory with what I wrote earlier, that there isn’t just a red team or a blue team, but what the Pew typologies do is to demonstrate that even the coalitions within each party are pulling apart from each other just as the parties themselves are pulling away from each other.)
If you’re reading this at Daily Kos (and aren’t here for trolling purposes), chances are very high that you’re a “Solid Liberal.” These are the Democrats who consistently express the liberal perspective on both social and economic questions; they’re also the ones who are the most politically engaged and active. They’re actually the nation’s largest group, though at 16 percent of the public, 19 percent of the registered voters, and 25 percent of the “politically engaged,” it’s still not that big. (They’re also 48 percent of politically engaged Democrats and Dem-leaning independents.)
Where the typologies become somewhat problematic — it’s not really so much a design flaw as the need to keep the number of typologies down to a manageable number — is that most people who are on both sides of the key splits within the Democratic coalition all register as “Solid Liberals.” The vociferous backers of both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders mostly fall into that category, because they both agree with the core Democratic tenets and they’re all the most politically engaged.
In other words, Pew is separating people out at the level of, for example, whether they support abortion rights or whether they think the government should do more to regulate business. They aren’t asking whether people support only a single-payer universal health care system or would be OK with a public option, or whether Democrats should be trying to activate previously-unregistered non-white voters or should instead try to win back rural white working-class members; or, to get more metaphysical, whether change should happen incrementally or all at once. They’re only polling on the basics.
And that’s important, in terms of maintaining perspective on national politics; that should be a reminder that the internecine fights that animate Daily Kos, or the high levels of the Democratic Party, simply don’t register with broad swaths of the country, which is divided on much more fundamental issues. I know the things we tend to argue about here seem important, but it helps to take a step back sometimes and look at them in the bigger scheme of things.
The less-consistently-liberal rest of the Democratic coalition consists of the “Opportunity Democrats,” the “Disaffected Democrats,” and “Devout and Diverse.” (These basically correspond with their 2014 categories of “Next Generation Left,” “Hard Pressed Skeptics,” and “Faith and Family Left.” Only the “Solid Liberals” group has retained the same name over the years.) Partly, what sets these other groups apart from “Solid Liberals” is demographic differences. The “Solid Liberals” tend to be the whitest, most educated, and most affluent group within the Democratic tent; for example, “Solid Liberals” are 73 percent white, while that number is 57 for “Opportunity Democrats,” 41 for “Disaffected Democrats,” and 44 for “Devout and Diverse.” That should seem familiar to people who paid close attention to the Democratic primary last year, where the whiter a state’s Democratic electorate was, the more likely it was to support the more liberal candidate.
“Opportunity Democrats” tend to be the most optimistic group of the batch, and the most pro-business or at least most business-tolerant while still agreeing with the Dems on big-picture issues. What sets them apart from the other Democratic groups is questions like “hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people” (73 percent of “Solid Liberals” agree with that, but only 22 percent of “Opportunity Dems” do) and “government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest” (96 percent of “Solid Liberals” agree, while 76 percent of “Opportunity Dems” do).
“Disaffected Democrats” by contrast are the most pessimistic group; they have lower incomes (though not much different than the “Devout and Diverse” group) and less education. What sets them apart is that while they have positive feelings toward the Democratic Party and most of its agenda, they’re more pessimistic about whether politicians can be trusted and whether political activity makes any difference in people’s lives. They’re one of the least politically active groups, and of all the groups (even including the Republican ones) the least likely to agree that life is better now than 50 years ago for people like them. But they are definitely in the camp of “government should do more for me;” one key difference they have with “Solid Liberals” is on the question of “U.S. should pay less attention overseas and focus on problems at home,” which 63 percent of them agree with while only 10 percent of “Solid Liberals” agree.
Finally, there are the “Devout and Diverse” Democrats, who are the most likely to break with the Democrats on social issues such as abortion or LGBT rights while still staying very much in the Democratic column on economic issues. Here, think of the many members of the Democratic Party who are either African Americans who attend evangelical black Protestant churches, or Hispanics who are active Catholics. The big divergence with “Solid Liberals” here is seen on the question “It is necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values;” 64 percent of “Devout and Diverse” Democrats agree with that, as opposed to only 9 percent of “Solid Liberals” (and 41 percent of “Disaffected Democrats,” who are similar to the “Devout and Diverse” in terms of mostly being non-white and lower income but who aren’t as religiously ardent).
I know that most of you are interested in the Democratic categories — since much of our time here at Daily Kos, at least in the comments, is spent on Democrats fighting Democrats — but what I find really interesting is the evolution in the Republican categories. And that’s also timely, since we really do seem to be witnessing an escalating and historic crack-up in the GOP right now!
Previously Pew had three Republican groups: “Steadfast Conservatives,” “Business Conservatives,” and the more libertarian-flavored “Young Outsiders.” This year, as the GOP pulls apart, they’ve had to bump that up to four different categories: “Core Conservatives,” “Country First Conservatives,” “Market Skeptic Conservatives,” and “New Era Enterprisers.” Interestingly, old categories don’t seem to map very well onto the new categories; in some ways, it seems like they’ve had to collapse both “Business Conservatives” and “Young Outsiders” down into the “New Era Enterprisers," reflective of the way that there just aren't that many voters located in the economically conservative-socially liberal quadrant any more (and there probably never were), as seen in the graph below (from political scientist Lee Drutman, rather than part of the Pew report). Meanwhile, they've had to break "Steadfast Conservatives" out into the various different flavors of nuts.
Pew’s current “Core Conservatives” are sort of the flipside of the “Solid Liberals;” they tend to be older and financially comfortable, and better-educated than the other GOP groups. They’re full-spectrum conservatives who agree with all of the fundamental Republican beliefs without any heterodox divergences (in much the same way that the "Solid Liberals," the best-educated Dem group, are also the most lockstep group — though that's not unusual; political scientists have long understood that the better a person understands the differences between the parties, the more likely they are to take positions that are entirely consistent with one party or the other; swing voters, in fact, tend to have a lesser understanding of the difference between the parties, which permits them to hold an inconsistent set of policy opinions).
Moreover, the "Core Conservatives" are the most politically active and politically aware of the groups on the right. These are voters who weren’t necessarily Donald Trump supporters in the primary, but who are fully supportive of him now, more so than any other category, largely because they simply always support Republicans and coalesce around whoever is bearing the standard.
The other group that’s most supportive of Trump are the “Country First Conservatives,” who have the lowest education and income levels of the various GOP groups, as well as being the oldest of all with an average age of 59. They tend to be considerably more anti-science and, in general, anti-expertise, than any other group, even the “Core Conservatives." The main difference between them and the “Core Conservatives” tends to be on issues of U.S. involvement in the rest of the world; “Core” voters agree 68 percent with the statement that “U.S. involvement in the global economy is good for new markets and growth” while only 39 percent of “Country First” voters agree. On the question of “Immigrants burden the U.S. by taking jobs, housing,” 43 percent of “Core Conservatives” agree while 76 percent of “Country First Conservatives” agree. (Though “Core Conservatives” probably are more immigration-tolerant not for humanitarian reasons but because of their fondness for cheap labor.)
The other two Republican groups are substantially less supportive of Trump, with “Market Skeptic Republicans” at only 66 percent approval and “New Era Enterprisers” at 63 percent approval. “Market Skeptic Republicans” are the GOP members who are the flipside of the “Disaffected Dems;” they’re generally on board with the Republican agenda’s main items, but are cynical about the prospects of either politicians or the market improving their crappy lives. In fact, only 5 percent of “Market Skeptic Republicans” agree with the statement that “the U.S. economic system is generally fair to most Americans,” compared with 75 percent of “Core Conservatives.”
You might think that the “Market Skeptic Republicans” are the evangelical core of the party, the people who are driven to vote for the GOP because of social issues, rather than economic issues. But one interesting quirk is that they’re pretty laissez-faire on certain social issues, and the hardcore evangelicals seem to fall more in the “Country First Conservatives” category; for instance, on the question “Homosexuality should be discouraged by society,” only 31 percent of “Market Skeptic Republicans” agree, while 70 percent of “Country First” voters agree.
Instead, the “Market Skeptics” may well be the more northern, secular white working-class voters who are the ones who really swung hard in the GOP direction in the 2016 election, providing the Electoral College difference in a few Midwestern states. They seem to be turning against Trump more because — unlike the evangelicals, who feel like they're at least getting judges out of the deal and gaining some ground on culture war issues — he’s turning out to be just another GOP plutocrat who’s not protecting their jobs and seeking to cut government programs, further confirming their general suspicion about politicians.
Finally, there are the “New Era Enterprisers,” who are the most optimistic Republicans and are Never Trump more from the establishment/moderate perspective. They aren’t anti-immigrant (only 23 percent agree with “Immigrants burden the U.S. by taking jobs, housing,” while also being somewhat socially tolerant (only 28 percent are anti-gay). But they’re down to only 11 percent of the general public and 9 percent of politically engaged persons.
The shrinking portion of the GOP coalition represented by this last group does a lot to explain the declining fortunes of guys like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, who've recently had to hit the ‘eject’ button. In particular, Flake, who’s pro-immigration and generally pro-civility, hit a dead end within the GOP coalition; as EJ Dionne points out, he’s too anti-Trump to fit in with the heavily tribalistic “Core Conservative” category despite being an economic hard-liner. He’s also too pro-austerity to appeal to the “Market Skeptics,” and too pro-brown people to appeal to the “Country First” voters. He’s stuck in that lower-right libertarian quadrant of the Drutman graph from above, where nobody else is.
The Pew Center’s writeup of their research goes much deeper than all of this; it’s worth reading the whole thing, as I’ve only scratched the surface and not really done justice to the full depth of it. One other thing that you can do is that you can take the same typology quiz that they used in their research, and they’ll tell you which of the groups you belong in. (You’ll probably feel, like I did, that many of the questions are too either/or and missing some nuance, but keep in mind that they need to force binary choices on these topics to try to map people onto a manageable quantitative system.) Below I’m including a quiz where you can let us all know where you land!