July 1, 2014

A closer look at who identifies as Democrat and Republican

typologyDemosAmerican political parties have long been vehicles to represent ever-shifting coalitions of particular interests — economic, regional, social and ideological. For example, Great Plains farmers who often voted Democratic a century ago now solidly favor Republicans; African Americans who were loyal GOP voters for decades after the Civil War began shifting during the New Deal and now are overwhelmingly Democratic. Political observers can still spend hours of pre-election time ruminating over whether the “big-city ethnic vote” or the “farm vote” will prevail.

But the parties also are coalitions of distinct groups of voters, whose shared attitudes and values unite them — and shape the parties they incline toward — at least as much as more impersonal economic and societal forces. The Pew Research Center’s mammoth new political typology report offers a different way to think of the two major parties’ component pieces. (For the purposes of this post, we limited our analysis to registered voters and combined self-identified Republicans or Democrats with independents who lean toward one or the other party.) 

Who are the political typology groups?

Steadfast Conservatives: Generally critical of government, especially social safety net programs, but also critical of big business and immigrants. Most are very socially conservative.

Business Conservatives: Overall, critical of government regulation and social-welfare spending, but not of big business. For the most part, moderate to liberal on social issues, with positive views toward immigrants.

Young Outsiders: Tend to be distrustful of government programs and fiscally conservative, but very liberal on social issues and not very religious.

Hard-Pressed Skeptics: Generally distrustful of government, except for social safety net spending. On average, low-income, anti-immigrant compared with other groups.

Next Generation Left: Generally positive feelings about government, but less so for social programs. Tend to be business-oriented and individualistic.

Faith and Family Left: By and large, highly religious, socially conservative, but strongly support social safety net and government action more broadly.

Solid Liberals: Overall, highly supportive of social programs, immigrants and government generally; very skeptical of business and markets. Consistently liberal on social issues, from homosexuality to environmental protection.

For both parties, two similar but distinct groups form their electoral cores, with a younger, more ideologically mixed group providing crucial — but not always consistent — support. First, let’s look at the left.

Nearly a third (32%) of Democrats are what we call Solid Liberals, while about a fifth (21%) are part of what we call the Faith and Family Left — a somewhat more socially conservative group than Solid Liberals. Add in the younger, more economically moderate Next Generation Left (18%) and you have seven out of 10 Americans who identify with or incline toward the Democrats.

On the right, three-in-ten Republicans are what we term Steadfast Conservatives and nearly a quarter (24%) are Business Conservatives — just as opposed to government taxes and regulation, but more moderate on social issues and friendlier toward business interests. Another 17% are Young Outsiders — fiscally conservative but socially quite liberal. Interestingly, those three groups comprise 71% of Republican registered voters — the same share accounted for by the three biggest Democratic components.

Democrats and their leaners make up almost half (48%) of registered voters, while Republicans and their leaners account for about 43%. The remaining 9-10% are people who expressed no preference for and did not lean toward either major party. As you might expect, they’re the most varied segment of the electorate, with none of our typological groups predominating.

Looked at this way, it’s clear that neither party can depend solely on its largest, most ardent (and often loudest) supporters to win elections. For example, Steadfast and Business Conservatives together make up 54% of all Republicans and Republican leaners, but only 27% of registered voters; similarly, 53% of Democrats and Democratic leaners, but only a third of registered voters, are Solid Liberals or Faith and Family Left.

Not only that, but there are key differences even between the core groups in each party. Business Conservatives, for instance, are significantly more supportive of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and more supportive of homosexuality than their Steadfast allies; they also are more favorable toward free trade agreements, an active U.S. role in world affairs and, as their name implies, business interests generally. (The current battle over reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank reflects, in part, that divide.)

Meanwhile, the Faith and Family Left is much less supportive of same-sex marriage than are Solid Liberals, and are more favorably inclined toward U.S. efforts to solve global problems.

Which group are you? Take our quiz and find out!

Topics: U.S. Political Parties, Political Typology

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.


  1. donna r hornock2 years ago

    I consider myself a conservative Democrat. I took the test 5 times. Three times I was faith and family left and twice as a steadfast conservative. According to the catagories the Republicans only the GOP can rely on are the steadfast conservatives and the business conservatives, Democrats need to worry about solid conservatives, business conservatives, and the faith and family all within their party. There are a few more Democrats than Republicans; but the Democratic Party is far more fractionalized. If the Democratic Party doesn’t have at least one candidate that opposes abortion, gay marriage, and legal non-medicinal pot.They will see members in their party defect to the GOP, and the majority of us will stay within the party but vote for the GOP presidential character.

  2. David Bergman3 years ago

    I would like to seethe breakdown between Democrats and Republicans by educational level.Has that ever been done ?

  3. RONALD J. FREDERICK3 years ago


  4. Jon von Gunten3 years ago

    Thank you for providing your quiz/survey on political typology. I loved doing it!

    But please clarify for me why the survey asked twice about some subjects, while failing to include questions on other telling (defining) topics?

    These other topics could have been included because most who care enough to take this survey would be happy to answer another 10 to 15 questions to allow tighter classification.

    To give you examples, (see my tally below as documentation), you included multiple questions on:
    1. Power and roles of corporations
    2. Individuals’ responsibility for their own success
    3. Black/white issues
    4. Military force vs. diplomacy
    5. Government’s duties to the poor, underprivileged
    6. Broad environmental matters
    7. Immigration issues
    These are great topics!

    But you doubled up on those above, while omitting these equally telling and divisive litmus test topics:
    1. Balancing the national budget
    2. Gun control
    3. Climate change beliefs
    4. Abortion
    5. Israel vs. Palestine
    6. Government’s role in raising and educating children
    7. Universal health (Obama)care

    Omitting key divisive issues throws you open to criticism from the hard left and the hard right.

  5. slk3 years ago

    in ’69, i signed my draft card as independent, and have remained that way ever since!!! whats the difference between a liberal/socialist and a republican??? the spelling, they both love to spend!!! taxed enough already!!!

  6. Tim Nelson3 years ago

    What about anti-libertarians ?

    1. Brandon Magoon3 years ago

      What about libertarians?