The Pew Center’s Political Typology Report is a terrific resource for understanding how the American electorate is divided. This is the first one Pew has put out since 2005, and it’s pretty fascinating. Highlights below. Even though I’ve bullet-pointed them, I’ve put it all below the fold, because it’s kind of long. But believe me, you’ll want to read this. It challenges a number of shibboleths on both the left and the right. For example:
+ Most Democrats are religiously and socially conservative. You read that right. Of the 37 percent of the general public Pew identifies as Democratic, 23 percent of them are religious and/or social conservatives. Yet the party’s profile and policies are largely determined by the solidly liberal 14 percent — a segment that is far more college educated than other Democrats.
+ More Republicans are skeptical of the power of big business and favor environmental laws than not. You read that right. There is a huge divide here — yet the party’s profile and policies are largely determined by the staunchly conservative minority.
+ There are fewer Republicans today than in 2005 — but no more Democrats. Instead, the Independents have gained, to the point where they are now the largest single bloc in US politics. But it’s misleading to think of them as a bloc: the groups within the Independents category are highly disparate, and seem to have little in common except they reject both party labels.
+ Independents are more socially liberal. Their numbers include Libertarians (nine percent of the population — as many as there are Staunch Conservatives) and Post-Moderns (13 percent) — together, slightly larger than the total number of Republicans, at 20 percent).
+ The GOP groups are far more united and motivated than the Democratic groups. This gives them far more power than their numbers — only 20 percent of the general public — indicates. In fact, the Tea Party is a minority of a minority, but because they are so highly motivated, they wield influence far out of proportion to their numbers.
+ The GOP is the party of the old, but Democrats are only sort of the party of the young. The Dems can claim the allegiance of more young people than the Repubs, but very many young people, even though they lean Democratic, identify as Independents — and they are less reliable voters than the old folks who turn out for the GOP.
+ Majorities in most typology groups say the country will need both to cut spending and raise taxes to reduce the budget deficit. Staunch Conservatives (only nine percent of the general population, and a minority even among Republicans!) are the exception – 59% say the focus should only be on cutting spending.
+ More Staunch Conservatives regularly watch Fox News than regularly watch CNN, MSNBC and the nightly network news broadcasts combined.
+ Homosexuality — but not gay marriage — is accepted by a strong majority. Fifty-eight percent overall believe it should be accepted, versus 33 percent who say it should be discouraged. Libertarians are the only conservative-oriented bloc that agrees with the majority. Socially conservative Dems are more or less evenly divided on the issue, and Independents clearly favor more gay acceptance. But the only groups in which majorities support gay marriage are Post-Moderns and Staunch Liberals — but they do so in such numbers that the overall picture is evenly divided.
+ Skepticism of military assertiveness holds the majority in all groups — except Staunch Conservatives. Guess who’s setting the GOP approach?
+ Staunch Conservatives are the oldest of all the groups. Sixty-one percent are 50 and older. They represent yesterday’s priorities — but they are highly engaged with politics. Among the Democratic-oriented groups, there is no age parity among Staunch Liberals; their 50-and-older group is only 42 percent of the total.
+ On both sides, whites are the most committed ideologues. Staunch Liberals are 77 percent white, while Staunch Conservatives are 92 percent white. Libertarians, by the way, are also overwhelmingly white — 85 percent.
+ There are almost no ethnic minority Republicans. In fact, the closest the GOP gets to attracting minority voters is the seven percent of Hispanics who identify as Libertarians.
+ Blacks and Hispanics are dispersed across Democratic coalitions. Interestingly, blacks cluster around the Hard-Pressed Democrats (35 percent) and the New Coalition Democrats. (30 percent). Hispanics are most heavily represented among the New Coalition Democrats (26 percent). New Coalition Democrats are described by Pew as “highly religious and financially stressed.” Hard-Pressed Democrats are the same, but differ from New Coalition Dems by being more pessimistic and distrustful of government.
+ Most groups think Wall Street hurts America more than it helps. Only Libertarians and Post-Moderns — white, relatively affluent Independents — come in with pro-Wall Street majorities. Among Staunch Conservatives, a plurality (48 percent) takes Wall Street’s side. Overall, though, 47 percent say Wall Street hurts more than it helps, while 38 percent say the opposite.
+ Nearly all groups think the government shouldn’t do as much to protect morality. Only New Coalition Democrats tally a majority on this question.
+ Huge majorities across the board favor both a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently in the country, and stronger enforcement of immigration laws.
+ International activism is not popular. Nearly two-thirds of all surveyed believe America should spend more time focused on domestic problems. Interestingly, the group that most favors a robust US role in foreign affairs is Staunch Liberals (47 percent favor, 47 percent oppose). Along those lines, a significant majority is tired of the US acting unilaterally in foreign affairs; only Staunch Conservatives disagree.
+ Americans are rather skeptical of Mideast democracy. Nearly all groups prefer stability in the Middle East to democracy (overall, 52 percent to 37 percent). Only Staunch Liberals disagree.
+ A strong majority believes developing alternative sources of energy should be the top priority for America. Only Staunch Conservatives favor making it a priority to do more oil, coal, and gas exploration and development. Notice that this isn’t an “either/or” question. It is possible to believe that we have to do both, but one should take precedence.
+ Majorities across all eight groups, as well as Bystanders, say elected officials lose touch with the people pretty quickly. Given that, on evidence of the Pew data, the two parties in Washington don’t actually represent the priorities of the American people, but rather of small minorities within those parties, no wonder!
Take Pew’s quiz to see where you fall within their typological categories. I ended up as a Main Street Republican — generally conservative, but more skeptical of big business and military assertiveness than Staunch Conservatives, and more favorable towards environmental protection.
What does this mean for conservatives going forward? In the short run, it indicates a big GOP victory in 2012. One thing I didn’t note is that antipathy towards Obama on the right is so strong, and support for him on the left is so weak, that the Obama factor is the key variable in next year’s election.
On long-term trends, though, it’s clear that absent a galvanizing factor like Obama antipathy and Democratic discouragement and disorganization, the Republicans are in trouble. Obama is not going to be around forever. What will the post-Obama picture be?
It is hardly news to point out that in a country in which whites are going to be a minority soon, the GOP is going to have to change itself. Interestingly, though, it appears from a cursory look at the Pew study that everyone, including Hispanics, favor stronger enforcement of immigration laws — but also a path to citizenship for illegals already here. That shouldn’t be a hard shift for Republicans to make.
An even easier shift ought to be for Republicans to move closer to Main Street values than Wall Street values — by which I mean change its economic approach to reflect the priorities of ordinary middle-class Americans. Also, Republicans are going to have to be less reflexively hostile to environmental protection if they want to win more voters. The Main Street Republicans are far more representative of the general view than the Staunch Conservatives (Tea Partiers, talk radio listeners, Fox viewers, and their fellow travelers) who are dominating the GOP ideologically.
The GOP is also going to have to recognize that the country has shifted dramatically in its views of homosexuality — but not as dramatically as liberals would like. True, there are far more social conservatives in America than liberals like to think; black and Hispanic Democrats are way more likely to be churchgoers and conservative on homosexuality and other social issues. Still, even many social conservatives favor increased acceptance of homosexuals, though they balk at gay marriage (though other surveys indicate that is clearly changing). A Republican Party that can accept, even through gritted teeth, that the country has shifted profoundly on this issue, but that will also fight for strong protections for religious liberty in the face of this change, could find the sweet spot on the gay issue. I wrote three years ago that even though I don’t like it, we social conservatives have lost the country on the gay issue, and we would be wise to retreat to defensible ground, and fight battles we can actually win. Religious liberty — that is, protecting the rights of religious traditionalists and their organizations to live by their convictions on homosexuality without suffering any penalty under tax law, anti-discrimination law, and so forth — is a battle we can win.
The GOP is also going to have to give up the “national greatness” and “freedom agenda” approach to world affairs. It is not popular, because most people, including most conservatives, are worn out by it, and see it as unsustainable.
Ultimately, the Republican Party at the present time is the party of Old Angry White People. Hey, I’m a Middle-Aged Angry White Person, and I have no problem with anybody being old, or angry, or white. But it cannot be a good sign for the party, or for conservatism, when the engine driving the GOP is so demographically isolated, and — how to put this? — at a longevity disadvantage. The GOP is lucky in that young Americans don’t bother to vote. I wonder, though, how long that’s going to be the case once they wake up and realize that the old are claiming a disproportionate share of the pie, because they have the good sense to pay attention to politics and to vote their interests.
For better or for worse, tomorrow’s GOP is going to be less white, less militaristic, less enamored of big business, more flexible on tax policy, more open to responsible stewardship of natural resources, and more flexible on social conservatism (which is not the same thing as becoming socially liberal). Or it’s not going to be. We can’t depend on Democratic haplessness forever.
As for tomorrow’s Democratic Party? Things seem to be going their way in the long term, but they have all kinds of fissures in their coalition. They too are going to have to give up the robust internationalism that Clinton and Obama have both embraced, and that is supported by the Staunch Liberals. (“Come home, America!” says Bill Kauffman). And they are going to have to be more supportive of social conservatism, and quit coming off as so reflexively hostile to religion (a function of the secular left having disproportionate influence among the Democrats).
That’s my general view. What do you think?