The Spectrum of Politics

According to the Pew Research Center, we Americans exist along a political spectrum far more nuanced than “red-blue.” These are among the findings of Pew Research Center’s new political typology, which sorts Americans into cohesive groups based on their values, attitudes and party affiliation, and provides a unique perspective on the nation’s changing political landscape. I can’t say whether their classifications seem on target or not, but it is nonetheless interesting. If you are interested in seeing where you might fall on the spectrum, take this quick online survey.

Division on the Right. The political typology finds two distinctly different groups on the right – Core Conservatives and Country First Conservatives, who both overwhelmingly approve of Trump, but disagree on much else – including immigration and whether it benefits the U.S. to be active internationally.

Core Conservatives, who are in many ways the most traditional group of Republicans, have an outsized influence on the GOP coalition; while they make up just 13% of the public – and about a third (31%) of all Republicans and Republican-leaning independents – they constitute a much larger share (43%) of politically engaged Republicans. This financially comfortable, male-dominated group overwhelmingly supports smaller government, lower corporate tax rates and believes in the fairness of the nation’s economic system. And a large majority of Core Conservatives (68%) express a positive view of U.S. involvement in the global economy “because it provides the U.S. with new markets and opportunities for growth.”

Country First Conservatives, a much smaller segment of the GOP base, are older and less educated than other Republican-leaning typology groups. Unlike Core Conservatives, Country First Conservatives are unhappy with the nation’s course, highly critical of immigrants and deeply wary of U.S. global involvement. Nearly two-thirds of Country First Conservatives (64%) – the highest share of any typology group, right or left – say that “if America is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation.”

A third Republican group, Market Skeptic Republicans, sharply diverges from the GOP’s traditional support for business and lower taxes. Only about a third of Market Skeptic Republicans (34%) say banks and other financial institutions have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country, lowest among Republican-leaning typology groups. Alone among the groups in the GOP coalition, a majority of Market Skeptic Republicans support raising tax rates on corporations and large businesses. An overwhelming share (94%) say the economic system unfairly favors powerful interests, which places the view of Market Skeptic Republicans on this issue much closer to Solid Liberals (99% mostly unfair) than Core Conservatives (21%).

In contrast to Market Skeptic Republicans, New Era Enterprisers are fundamentally optimistic about the state of the nation and its future. They are more likely than any other typology group to say the next generation of Americans will have it better than people today. Younger and somewhat less overwhelmingly white than the other GOP-leaning groups, New Era Enterprisers are strongly pro-business and generally think that immigrants strengthen, rather than burden, the country.

Division on the Left. The four groups in the Democratic coalition differ on a number of issues: While they all strongly support the social safety net, the Democratic-leaning groups are divided on government regulation of business, and government performance more generally. And like the GOP coalition, they disagree on U.S. global involvement.

While there have long been racial, ethnic and income differences within the Democratic coalition, these gaps are especially striking today. Reflecting the changing demographic composition of the Democratic base, for the first time there are two majority-minority Democratic-leaning typology groups, along with two more affluent, mostly white groups.

Solid Liberals are the largest group in the Democratic coalition, and they make up close to half (48%) of politically engaged Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. Largely white, financially comfortable and highly educated (most are college graduates and nearly a third have postgraduate degrees), Solid Liberals overwhelmingly express liberal attitudes on virtually every issue. Nearly half of Solid Liberals (49%) say they have contributed money to a political candidate or campaign in the past year; no more than a third in any other group (32% of Core Conservatives) say the same. And 39% of Solid Liberals report they have participated in a protest against Trump’s policies, which also is by far the highest share among the political typology groups.

For the most part, Opportunity Democrats agree with Solid Liberals on major issues. But Opportunity Democrats are less affluent, less politically engaged and less liberal – both in their attitudes on issues and in how they describe themselves politically. One area of difference between Opportunity Democrats and Solid Liberals is on corporate profits: 40% of Opportunity Democrats say most corporations make a “fair and reasonable amount of profit,” compared with 16% of Solid Liberals. And Opportunity Democrats stand out in their belief that most people can get ahead if they are willing to work hard.

Disaffected Democrats have very positive feelings toward the Democratic Party and its leading figures. Their disaffection stems from their cynicism about politics, government and the way things are going in the country. This financially stressed, majority-minority group supports activist government and the social safety net, but most say government is “wasteful and inefficient.” A large majority of Disaffected Democrats say their side has been losing in politics, while fewer than half believe that voting gives them a say in how the government runs things.

A second majority-minority group, Devout and Diverse, faces even tougher financial hardships than Disaffected Democrats. Devout and Diverse also are the most politically mixed typology group (about a quarter lean Republican), as well as the least politically engaged. Like Disaffected Democrats, they are critical of government regulation of business. They also are the most religiously observant Democratic-leaning group, and the only one in which a majority (64%) says it is necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values.

On the outside. In addition to the eight main groups in the political typology, a ninth group – the Bystanders – is missing in action politically. Almost no one in this relatively young, largely minority group is registered to vote and most pay little or no attention to politics and government. The make up approximately 8% of the general public.



2 thoughts on “The Spectrum of Politics

  1. I took the poll and while I wasn’t surprised at the outcome, I felt that the questions lacked the nuance necessary to really figure out where a person stands politically on the spectrum. But it was a fun exercise!

    • I think you insight is true. I suspect the 2017 polling that produced the results was more nuanced and the online version was more “fun” for the reader than research. It was interested to see the spectrum – it may not be the be-all and end-all, but it is interesting as I suspect the great number of citizen operate somewhere in the middle with interesting combinations of fiscal policy and social perspective.

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