April 22, 2015

Conservatives are among the most politically active Americans

Political Interest Highest at Ideological Extremes

As the 2016 presidential field starts to take shape, many on the Republican side are pitching themselves squarely to the most conservative wing of the GOP. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, in particular, has argued that the key to Republican victory next year will be nominating someone – presumably himself – who can inspire “millions of courageous conservatives” to vote.

It’s an argument Cruz has been making for a while: In January,  according to CBS News, he told a South Carolina Tea Party convention that “if we nominate a candidate in that mold [of John McCain and Mitt Romney], the same people who stayed home in 2008 and 2012 will stay home in 2016 and the Democrats will win again.”

Given the limitations of exit polls, it’s hard to assess whether such a factor was at work in the cases of McCain or Romney, though at least some in the Republican Party are skeptical. What we do know is that, by several measures, people who self-identify as conservative Republicans (and GOP-leaning independents) already are more politically active than most other segments of the population.

Take voting, for starters. We did a new analysis of merged data from Pew Research Center surveys conducted during the fall 2012 campaign; the data combine party identification among the general public (including those who lean toward one party or the other) with their ideological self-identification. The analysis shows that in 2012, 82% of conservative Republicans and Republican leaners were “highly likely” to vote, by far the highest rate of any subgroup.

Conservative Republicans and leaners also rated highly on other indicators of political engagement. They were the likeliest to say they closely followed government and public affairs “most” or “some” of the time: 80% in 2012, ahead of liberal Democrats and leaners (73%) and more than the general public as a whole (67%). Conservative Republicans and leaners also were far more likely to say they had given “some” or “quite a lot” of thought to the election – 81%, compared with 70% of liberal Democrats and leaners and 67% of the general public.

Conservative Republicans' Share of Voters Steady

Excluding leaners, however, conservative Republicans’ share of the overall electorate has been more or less steady since 2004, according to Pew Research analysis of national exit poll data: About a fifth of voters identified as conservative Republicans in 2012. (Liberal Democrats made up 16% of the electorate in 2012, continuing a modest but steady increase since 2000.)

The 2014 version of Pew Research’s political typology also found that the staunchest conservatives are among the most politically engaged of the American electorate. The two most consistently conservative typology groups, Steadfast Conservatives and Business Conservatives, were among the most likely (along with Solid Liberals) to contribute to or volunteer for campaigns, attend campaign events and contact elected officials. (Don’t know which political type you are? Take our quiz and find out!)

Although the two most conservative types together account for less than a quarter (22%) of the general public, according to the typology report, they make up more than a third (36%) of all “politically engaged” Americans – those who are registered to vote, say they always or nearly always vote, and closely follow public affairs. Similarly, Solid Liberals are a greater share of the politically engaged (21%) than they are of the general public (15%). It’s the less ardently partisan groups that are less engaged in political life.

Topics: Political Attitudes and Values, Political Typology, 2016 Election

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.


  1. Muthyavan.2 years ago

    This is not only common in USA ,it the same as in most of the word democracies. They are a steady people who strongly believe in conservative ideas, who rarely are prepared to go beyond their strong views.

  2. David Lloyd-Jones2 years ago

    The problem with self-reporting on this topic is that it leaves you counting Tea Party folks who say they are interested in the US Constitution as people who are interested in the US Constitution.

    In fact they are interested in some fantastical imaginings of nutso paid propagandists, and rarely come within a country mile of any genuine constitution. Thus your poll reflect their fantasies rather than anything in the real world.

    The outcome may have political repercussions, but you have no business calling the input “following governmental and political affairs.”


  3. Anon2 years ago

    Your graphic has a big typo in “Conservatives are among the most politically active Americans” – “Conservative/moderate” is accidentally switched with Moderate/liberal”

    1. Bruce Drake2 years ago

      Thanks for the note. The labels in the chart are correct. Our polls usually look at self-described liberals and conservative/moderates within the Democratic party, and moderate/liberals and conservatives within the Republican Party