Getting Beyond Red and Blue: Pew Study Seeks to Define American Voters

May 4, 2011 2:13pm

ABC’s Amy Walter (@amyewalter) reports:

Given the amount of time and energy we spend trying to classify/decode/evaluate the views and opinions of American voters, a new study by Pew Research is worth paying attention to as we go forward (albeit slowly) into the 2012 campaign.

This afternoon, the Pew Research Center released its fifth Political Typology study. Read the report here.

The study, which started in 1987, attempts to classify Americans “on the basis of a broad range of value orientations rather than just on the basis of party identification”

In it, Pew has divided Americans into eight political categories. Two are mostly Republican (“Staunch Conservatives” and “Main Street Republicans”); Three are mostly independent (“Libertarians,” “Disaffecteds,” and “Post-Moderns”); three are mostly Democratic (“New Coalition Dems,” “Hard-Pressed Dems,” and “Solid Liberals”)

Bottom line: this exhaustive study gives us an opportunity to look for the fault lines within voting blocks to understand how groups of voters we often see as being homogeneous are being cross-pressured on a variety of issues.

For example, Main Street Republicans, like Staunch Conservatives, are highly critical of government but they are less enamored of business than the Staunch Conservatives.

Here are some of the key findings:

–Views about the role of government and opinions of President Obama increasingly separate the Republican and Democratic groups. Even so, high percentages of people across all groups say they are distrustful of government.

–The Republican coalition has narrowed and is more ideologically cohesive. This group is also much more engaged politically that Democratic coalition. The upside for Republicans: their base is more unified and more energized. The downside: winning over this group in a primary means potentially distancing oneself more than ever from those groups in the center who are the key to winning a general election

– While a “growing number of Americans are choosing not to identify with either political party” the so-called independent center of the political spectrum is “increasingly diverse” and “combine views” on issues “in ways that defy liberal or conservative orthodoxy.” For example, don’t assume that just because someone identifies as independent that they are “moderate.” The “Disaffecteds” voted Republican in ’08 and ’10 but they are also very skeptical of corporate America and believe government should do more to help needy Americans. Meanwhile, post-Moderns lean Democratic, but they are generally positive about the role of business and free markets.

–When it comes to their views of the 2012 election, these groups are falling along the same lines they did in 2008. Libertarians, however, have “moved more firmly into the Republican camp since 2008”. They backed John McCain over Barack Obama by 39 points in 2008. Today, they prefer a generic Republican over Obama by a 63-point margin. The one way that Republicans could squander this lead is to focus too heavily on social issues. For example, while 33% of the general public and 60% of Main Street Republicans think Homosexuality should be discouraged by society, just 19% of Libertarians feel that way. 

We interviewed the PEW Center’s Andrew Kohut on Top Line Thursday.

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