Free Markets, Free People

voter typology

Shifting voter typology

If you’re a political junkie, then you’ll be interested in this new voter typology that the Pew Research Center has put together describing how the voting population is now configured:



The description of each of these is as follows:

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. Today, Staunch Conservatives take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues – on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns. Most agree with the Tea Party and even more very strongly disapprove of Barack Obama’s job performance. A second core group of Republicans – Main Street Republicans also is 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 0f 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.

Independents have played a determinative role in the last three national elections. But the three groups in the center of the political typology have very 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.

Disaffecteds, the other main group of independents, 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.

On reflection, I think it is a pretty fair description of the electorate as it stands today.  Pew’s article contains links to previous typologies it has published, this being their latest.  The obvious point, after reviewing this, is that politicians of today must somehow satisfy their core constituencies but be able to reach out to the “independents” in a meaningful way in order to garner their votes.  And, if you read the descriptions of each, there are plenty of clues as to how to do that.  But there are also some possible show stoppers.

I don’t really have a particular problem with the breakdown of voting groups but – and this is just a sense – I’m not particularly convinced by their numbers.  For example, I have difficulty believing that “Solid Liberals” outnumber “Staunch Conservatives”.  That’s just not been the trend, and in my opinion, it is even less likely given the condition of our economy and our government’s finances.

Some key findings of the study:

More than in the recent past, attitudes about government separate Democrats from Republicans, and it is these beliefs that are most correlated with political preferences looking ahead to 2012.

Couple that with:

The GOP still enjoys an intensity advantage, which proved to be a crucial factor in the Republicans’ victories in the 2010 midterm elections.

Obviously that’s a perishable commodity that can be lost at any time.

Now add the independents and their attitudes:



Looking through that list, you can see that the “Libertarian” group has a natural affinity for the right as do most “Disaffected”.  Even the “Post Moderns” group up in the majority “Moderate” area and not the liberal area.  But look at what one could consider “wedge” issues and how they line up.    It is all over the place and many of the answers are diametrically opposed to their supposed natural alliances.  Probably the most disturbing to me is the “Business corporations make too much profit.”

Anyway, that’s a pretty heavy mine field politically speaking.  But you’re also looking at (if you accept Pew’s numbers) 34% of the voting population – the obvious difference in any election.

By the way, click on over to the study and look at the comparison between the GOP and Democratic groups and how they answer the “Business corporations make too much profit”.  What you’ll see on that particular issue are opportunities for the GOP among New Coalition Dems and for the Democrats among “Main St. Republicans”.  On the latter, I’m not sure how “main street” of a Republican you are if you think that to be true about business corporations, but there it is.

Finally, some other findings to chew on.  They illustrate the complexity of the electorate and the difficulty in attempting to address various issues:

  • Majorities in most typology groups say the country will need both to cut spending and raise taxes to reduce the budget deficit. Staunch Conservatives are the exception – 59% say the focus should only be on cutting spending.
  • Core GOP groups largely prefer elected officials who stick to their positions rather than those who compromise. Solid Liberals overwhelmingly prefer officials who compromise, but the other two Democratic groups do not.
  • For Staunch Conservatives it is still “Drill, Baby, Drill” – 72% say that expanding exploration for and production of oil, coal and natural gas is the more important energy priority. In most other typology groups, majorities say developing alternatives is more important.
  • Republican groups say the Supreme Court should base rulings on its interpretation of the Constitution “as originally written.” Democratic groups say the Court should base its rulings on what the Constitution means today.
  • Main Street Republicans and GOP-oriented Disaffecteds are far more likely than Staunch Conservatives or Libertarians to favor a significant government role in reducing childhood obesity.
  • Solid Liberals are the only typology group in which a majority (54%) views democracy as more important than stability in the Middle East. Other groups say stable governments are more important or are divided on this question.
  • New Coalition Democrats are more likely than the other core Democratic groups to say that most people can make it if they are willing to work hard.
  • More Staunch Conservatives regularly watch Fox News than regularly watch CNN, MSNBC and the nightly network news broadcasts combined.
  • There are few points on which all the typology groups can agree, but cynicism about politicians is one. Majorities across all eight groups, as well as Bystanders, say elected officials lose touch with the people pretty quickly.
  • Staunch Conservatives overwhelmingly want to get tougher with China on economic issues. Across other typology groups, there is far more support for building stronger economic relations with China.
  • The allied airstrikes in Libya divide Democratic groups. Solid Liberals and New Coalition Democrats favor the airstrikes, but about as many Hard-Pressed Democrats favor as oppose the operation.
  • Michelle Obama is popular with Main Street Republicans, as well as most other typology groups. But Staunch Conservatives view the first lady unfavorably – and 43% view her very unfavorably.

With all of that, though, here is the key to the next election:

The new typology finds a deep and continuing divide between the two parties, as well as differences within both partisan coalitions. But the nature of the partisan divide has changed substantially over time.

More than in the recent past, attitudes about government separate Democrats from Republicans, and it is these beliefs that are most correlated with political preferences looking ahead to 2012. [emphasis mine]

Those are the attitudes that the politicos are going to have to develop, sell and exploit in 2012.  However wins will have done the best job of either selling big government or smaller government and all that goes with each.  Or you’re going to see an attempt to co-opt “small government” by the left by attempting to do things like drastically reducing military spending and raising taxes on the rich and business while hardly touching entitlements and calling the result “small government” as “demanded” by the electorate.

It is going to be a very interesting political season. As interesting as it will be to see who ends up representing GOP hopes in the presidential election, it will be even more interesting – at least to me – to see how Obama plans to run on his record this time.  Because he finally has too.

Yup, we’re right in the middle of the old Chinese saying “may you live in interesting times”.  Unfortunately, I’m not so sure the saying necessarily meant those interesting times were good times.