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  • Corey Lee Wilson

Beyond the Red vs. Blue Political Divide

A growing number of Americans are choosing not to identify with either political party, and the middle of the political spectrum is increasingly diverse. Rather than being moderate, many independents in the middle hold extremely strong ideological positions on issues such as the role of government, immigration, the environment and social issues. But they combine these views in ways that defy liberal or conservative orthodoxy.

It’s also helpful to expose the relationship between American’s individual political ideologies and their political parties, keeping in mind that in the last century, American voters were more likely to be a conservative Democrat and/or a liberal Republican. An oxymoron you, say? Hardly! It’s true they existed in significant numbers in the 20th century but less so today in the 21st century.

Today, there are two core Republican groups, compared with three in 2005, to some extent reflecting a decline in GOP party affiliation. However, Democrats have not made gains in party identification. Rather, there has been a sharp rise in the percentage of independents–from 30% in 2005 to 37% in 2011.

While Republicans trail the Democrats in party affiliation, they enjoy advantages in other areas: The two core GOP groups are more homogenous demographically and ideologically than are the three core Democratic groups. And socioeconomic differences are more apparent on the left: Nearly half of Solid Liberals (49%) are college graduates, compared with 27% of New Coalition Democrats and just 13% of Hard-Pressed Democrats.

The Political Typology Study by the Pew Research Center

These are the principal findings of the 2011 political typology study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, which sorts Americans into cohesive groups based on values, political beliefs, and party affiliation. The latest study is based on two surveys with a combined sample of 3,029 adults, conducted Feb. 22-Mar. 14, 2011 and a smaller callback survey conducted April 7-10, 2011 with 1,432 of the same respondents.

The most visible shift in the political landscape since Pew Research’s previous political typology in early 2005 is the emergence of a single bloc of across-the-board conservatives. The long-standing divide between economic, pro-business conservatives and social conservatives has blurred into the 21st century.

During the Obama presidency, Staunch Conservatives took extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues–on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues, and moral concerns. Most agreed with the Tea Party and even more very strongly disapproved of Barack Obama’s job performance. A second core group of Republicans–Main Street Republicans–are also conservative, but less consistently so.

On the left, Solid Liberals express diametrically opposing views from the Staunch Conservatives on virtually every issue. While Solid Liberals are predominantly white, minorities make up greater shares of New Coalition Democrats–who include nearly equal numbers of whites, African Americans, and Hispanics–and Hard-Pressed Democrats, who are about a third African American. Unlike Solid Liberals, both of these last two groups are highly religious and socially conservative. New Coalition Democrats are distinguished by their upbeat attitudes in the face of economic struggles.

But the three groups in the center of the political typology have little in common, aside from their avoidance of partisan labels. Libertarians and Post-Moderns are largely white, well-educated, and affluent.

They also share a relatively secular outlook on some social issues, including homosexuality and abortion. But Republican-oriented Libertarians are far more critical of government, less supportive of environmental regulations, and more supportive of business than are Post-Moderns, most of whom lean Democratic.

Independents Played a Determinative Role in the Last Four National Elections

Today, there are three disparate groups of independents: Libertarians, Disaffecteds, and Post Moderns, compared with two in 2005.

Disaffecteds are financially stressed and cynical about politics. Most lean to the Republican Party, though they differ from the core Republican groups in their support for increased government aid to the poor.

Another group in the center, Bystanders, largely consign themselves to the political sidelines and for the most part are not included in this analysis.

The new and revised typologies finds a deep and continuing divide between the two parties, as well as differences within both partisan coalitions, and the nature of the partisan divide has changed substantially over time as shown on the table below.



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