Part 1: Principal Findings
Coming out of the 2004 election, the American political landscape decidedly favored the Republican Party. The GOP had extensive appeal among a disparate group of voters in the middle of the electorate, drew extraordinary loyalty from its own varied constituencies, and made some inroads among conservative Democrats. These advantages outweighed continued nationwide parity in party affiliation. Looking forward, however, there is no assurance that Republicans will be able to consolidate and build upon these advantages.
Republicans have neither gained nor lost in party identification in 2005. Moreover, divisions within the Republican coalition over economic and domestic issues may loom larger in the future, given the increasing salience of these matters. The Democratic party faces its own formidable challenges, despite the fact that the public sides with them on many key values and policy questions. Their constituencies are more diverse and, while united in opposition to President Bush, the Democrats are fractured by differences over social and personal values.
These are among the conclusions of Pew’s political typology study, which sorts voters into homogeneous groups based on values, political beliefs, and party affiliation. The current study is based on two public opinion surveys a nationwide poll of 2,000 interviews conducted Dec. 1-16, 2004, and a subsequent re-interview of 1,090 respondents conducted March 17-27 of this year. This is the fourth such typology created by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press since 1987. Many of the groups identified in the current surveys are similar to those in past typologies, reflecting the continuing importance of a number of key beliefs and values. These themes endure despite the consequential events of the past four years especially the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq.
But clearly, those events and the overall importance of national security issues have a major impact on the typology. Foreign affairs assertiveness now almost completely distinguishes Republican-oriented voters from Democratic-oriented voters; this was a relatively minor factor in past typologies. In contrast, attitudes relating to religion and social issues are not nearly as important in determining party affiliation. Still, these issues do underscore differences within parties, especially among the Democrats. While Republican-inclined voters range from the religious to the very religious, the Democratic Party is much more divided in terms of religious and cultural values. Its core constituents include both seculars and the highly religious.
The value gaps for the GOP are, perhaps surprisingly, greatest with respect to the role of government. The Republicans’ bigger tent now includes more lower-income voters than it once did, and many of these voters favor an activist government to help working class people. Government regulation to protect the environment is an issue with particular potential to divide Republicans. On this issue, wide divisions exist both within the GOP and among right-of-center voters more generally.
Yet Republicans also have much in common beyond their overwhelming support for a muscular foreign policy and broad agreement on social issues. Voters inclined toward the Republican Party are distinguished from Democrats by their personal optimism and belief in the power of the individual. While some voting blocs on the right are as financially stressed as poorer Democrats, Republicans in this situation tend to be more hopeful and positive in their outlook than their more fatalistic counterparts in the Democratic Party.
National security attitudes also generally unite the Democrats. Beyond their staunch opposition to the war in Iraq, Democrats overwhelmingly believe that effective diplomacy, rather than military strength, should serve as the basis for U.S. security policy. At home, Democrats remain committed to a strong social safety net and are joined in opposition to most domestic policy proposals from the Bush administration, from tougher bankruptcy laws to private accounts in Social Security.
The typology study’s finding of significant cleavages within parties not only runs counter to the widespread impression of a nation increasingly divided into two unified camps, but also raises questions about political alignments in the future. In particular, the study suggests that if the political agenda turns away from issues of defense and security, prospects for party unity could weaken significantly. As the following chapters detail, numerous opportunities exist for building coalitions across party lines on many issues currently facing the nation coalitions that, in many cases, include some strange political bedfellows. Overall, there are many more shades to the American political landscape than just the red and blue dividing the Electoral College maps last Nov. 2.
The Political Middle
In some ways, the biggest difference between the latest Pew Research Center typology and those in the Clinton era concerns the groups in the middle of the political spectrum. During the 1990s, the typology groups in the center were not particularly partisan, but today they lean decidedly to the GOP.
The middle groups include Upbeats, relatively moderate voters who have positive views of their financial situation, government performance, business, and the state of the nation in general. They are generally well-educated and fairly engaged in political news. While most Upbeats do not formally identify with either political party, they voted for Bush by more than four-to-one last November.
A second, very different group of centrist voters, the Disaffecteds, is much less affluent and educated than the Upbeats. Consequently, they have a distinctly different outlook on life and political matters. They are deeply cynical about government and unsatisfied with their financial situation. Even so, Disaffecteds lean toward the Republican Party and, though many did not vote in the presidential election, most of those who did supported Bush’s reelection.
In effect, Republicans have succeeded in attracting two types of swing voters who could not be more different. The common threads are a highly favorable opinion of President Bush personally and support for an aggressive military stance against potential enemies of the U.S.
A third group in the center, Bystanders, largely consign themselves to the political sidelines. This category of mostly young people, few of whom voted in 2004, has been included in all four of the Center’s political typologies.
The Republican Party’s current advantage with the center makes up for the fact that the GOP-oriented groups, when taken together, account for only 29% of the public. By contrast, the three Democratic groups constitute 41% of the public. But the imbalance shifts to the GOP’s favor when the inclinations of the two major groups in the center are taken into account many of whom lean Republican and most of whom voted for George W. Bush.
The three GOP groups are highly diverse, and this is reflected in their values. The staunchly conservative Enterprisers have perhaps the most consistent ideological profile of any group in the typology. They are highly patriotic and strongly pro-business, oppose social welfare and overwhelmingly support an assertive foreign policy. This group is largely white, well-educated, affluent and male more than three-quarters are men.
While Enterprisers are a bit less religious than the other GOP groups, they are socially conservative in most respects. Two other groups on the right are both highly religious and very conservative on moral issues. Social Conservatives agree with Enterprisers on most issues, but they tend to be critical of business and supportive of government regulation to protect the public good and the environment. They also express deep concerns about the growing number of immigrants in America. This largely female group includes many white evangelical Christians, and nearly half of Social Conservatives live in the South.
Pro-Government Conservatives also are broadly religious and socially conservative, but they deviate from the party line in their backing for government involvement in a wide range of policy areas, such as government regulation and more generous assistance to the poor. This relatively young, predominantly female group is under substantial financial pressure, but most feel it is within their power to get ahead. This group also is highly concentrated in the South, and, of the three core Republican groups, had the lowest turnout in the 2004 election.
Clearly, there is more than one kind of conservative. The Republican groups find common ground on cultural values, but opinions on the role of government, a defining feature of conservative philosophy for decades, are now among the most divisive for the GOP.
At the other end of the political spectrum, Liberals have swelled to become the largest voting bloc in the typology. Liberals are opponents of an assertive foreign policy, strong supporters of environmental protection, and solid backers of government assistance to the poor.
This affluent, well-educated, highly secular group is consistently liberal on social issues, ranging from freedom of expression to abortion. In contrast, Conservative Democrats are quite religious, socially conservative and take more moderate positions on several key foreign policy questions. The group is older, and includes many blacks and Hispanics; of all the core Democratic groups, it has strongest sense of personal empowerment.
Disadvantaged Democrats also include many minority voters, and they are the least financially secure voting bloc. Members of this heavily female, poorly educated group are highly pessimistic about their opportunities in life, and also very mistrustful of both business and government. Nonetheless, they support government programs to help the needy.
While the Republican Party is divided over government’s role, the Democrats are divided by social and personal values. Most Liberals live in a world apart from Disadvantaged Democrats and Conservative Democrats.
Other Major Findings
- For the most part, opinions about the use of force are what divides Democratic-oriented groups from the Republican groups. On other foreign policy issues, even contentious questions about working with allies, the partisan pattern is not as clear.
- Environmental protection now stands out as a major divide within the GOP’s coalition. While a narrow majority of Enterprisers believe the country has gone too far in its efforts to protect the environment, most others on the GOP side disagree.
- Poorer Republicans and Democrats have strikingly different outlooks on their lives and possibilities. Pro-Government Conservatives are optimistic and positive; Disadvantaged Democrats are pessimistic and cynical.
- Immigration divides both parties. Liberals overwhelmingly believe immigrants strengthen American society, and most Enterprisers agree. Majorities of other groups in both parties say immigrants threaten traditional American customs and values.
- The Republican Party is doing a better job of standing up for its core issues than is the Democratic Party, according to their respective constituents. Liberals are particularly negative about the performance of the Democratic Party.
- A plurality of the public wants Bush to select a nominee who will keep the Supreme Court about the same as it is now. Only among Enterprisers and Social Conservatives is there substantial support for a more conservative course.
- Stem cell research deeply divides the GOP. Majorities in all three Democratic groups, and the three independent groups, favor such research. Republican groups, to varying degrees, are divided.
- Enterprisers take conservative positions on most religious and cultural issues but are less intense in their beliefs than are other GOP groups. They are more libertarian than other Republican-oriented groups.
- George W. Bush has the broadest personal appeal of any national political figure among the main independent groups, the Upbeats and Disaffecteds.
- Rudy Giuliani is widely popular with Republican groups but also has a favorable rating among majorities in both independent groups, and is viewed positively by roughly half of Conservative Democrats and Liberals.
- Bill and Hillary Clinton’s favorable ratings have risen among the public, and both earn relatively high ratings from the GOP’s Pro-Government Conservatives.
- Liberals stand far apart from the rest of the electorate in their strong support for gay marriage, and in opposing the public display of the Ten Commandments in government buildings.
- Enterprisers stand alone on key economic issues. Majorities in every other group except Enterprisers support a government guarantee of universal health insurance. Enterprisers also are the only group in which less than a majority supports increasing the minimum wage.
- Private investment accounts in Social Security draw mixed reviews. Support for Bush’s plan has faded not just among Democrats, but also independents. Disaffecteds are now evenly split over the proposal; in December, they favored it by almost a two-to-one margin.
- Enterprisers are the only voters to overwhelmingly believe that the Patriot Act is a necessary tool in the war on terrorism. Liberals are the strongest opponents of the legislation.