In discussions of political issues, the American public is too often described in a binary format: Left/Right, Republican/Democrat, Red State/Blue State. But a new survey by the Pew Research Center takes a more granular look at our current political typology by sorting voters into cohesive groups based on their attitudes and values:
Partisan polarization – the vast and growing gap between Republicans and Democrats – is a defining feature of politics today. But beyond the ideological wings, which make up a minority of the public, the political landscape includes a center that is large and diverse, unified by frustration with politics and little else. As a result, both parties face formidable challenges in reaching beyond their bases to appeal to the middle of the electorate and build sustainable coalitions.
The new typology has eight groups: Steadfast Conservatives, Business Conservatives, Solid Liberals, Young Outsiders, Hard-Pressed Skeptics, Next Generation Left, Faith and Family Left, and Bystanders. (See addendum below for descriptions of each group.)
Pew Research’s most recent report uses cluster analysis to sort people into these eight groups based on their responses to 23 questions covering an array of political attitudes and values. Here are a few of the interesting highlights from the report:
Views of the Federal Government
Majorities of all typology groups express low levels of trust in government. Distrust is especially acute among the Republican-oriented groups. For example, 93% of Steadfast Conservatives trust the government only some of the time or never. The Next Generation Left are among the least negative groups, yet more still say they trust the government only sometimes or never (59%) than most of the time or always (40%).
Defining Government’s Role
Most Americans say that sometimes laws are necessary to protect people from themselves (62%), while 34% say that it’s not the government’s job to protect people from themselves. Most typology groups say it is sometimes necessary to have laws to protect people from themselves, including 57% of Young Outsiders – a group that generally holds limited views on what the government can and should be doing.
Business Conservatives (65%-30%) and Steadfast Conservatives (58%-37%) are the only two groups where majorities say it’s not the government’s job to protect people from themselves.
Government Regulation of Business
Large majorities of the typology’s middle groups – Hard-Pressed Skeptics (66%) and Young Outsiders (61%) – say regulation does more harm than good.
Anti-regulation views are a defining feature of the two most Republican typology groups. Fully 85% of Steadfast Conservative and 81% of Business Conservatives say that government regulation of business does more harm than good.
By contrast, there is strong support for government regulation of business among Solid Liberals (87% say regulation is necessary to protect the public interest), the Next Generation Left (75%) and the Faith and Family Left (67%).
Fairness of the Economic System
There is public agreement that the U.S. economic system unfairly favors powerful interests, and even more Americans believe that large corporations in this country are too powerful. But on both issues, Business Conservatives offer strongly dissenting views; they are the only typology group in which a majority sees the economic system as fundamentally fair.
Government Aid to the Poor
Fully 86% of Steadfast Conservatives and Young Outsiders, along with 80% of Business Conservatives, say government aid to the poor does more harm than good by making people too dependent on government assistance. Majorities in the three Democratically-oriented groups, as well as the Democratic-leaning Hard-Pressed Skeptics, express the opposite view—that government aid to the poor does more good than harm because people can’t get out of poverty until their basic needs are met.
Views of Poverty and the Poor
The public is split in their views of whether government aid to the poor is justified: While 44% say the poor “have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return,” about as many (47%) believe poor people “have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently.”
Why are people poor?
Overall, 50% say it is more often because of circumstances beyond an individual’s control; 39% think a lack of effort is more to blame. Majorities of Steadfast Conservatives (61%), Business Conservatives (58%) and Young Outsiders (56%) say a lack of effort is more often to blame for why a person is poor.
Among Democratically-oriented groups, 86% of Solid Liberals and 62% of the Faith and Family Left say that the poor have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently; 71% of Hard-Pressed Skeptics also express this view. But the Next Generation Left are more conflicted in their views: About as many say a lack of effort is usually to blame for why a person is poor (42%) as say poverty is the result of circumstances outside of one’s control (47%).
Does Hard Work Lead to Success?
Americans continue to offer broad support for the idea that hard work leads to success in this country. Nearly two-thirds of the public (65%) say most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard, while just 32% say hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people.
However, majorities of two typology groups – Hard-Pressed Skeptics and Solid Liberals – reject the American ideal that hard work is all it takes to succeed.
Link Between God and Morality
On fundamental views related to belief in God, 53% of the public says it is not necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values, while 45% believes it is necessary. While overall opinion is fairly evenly split, opinion among the typology groups is not: Large majorities of all groups are on one side or the other of this question.
Importance of Marriage and Having Children
Steadfast Conservatives are the most likely to think marriage and having children should be prioritized (80% say this), while two-thirds of Business Conservatives (66%) agree.They are joined in this view by 64% of the Democratic-leaning – and highly religious – Faith and Family Left.
By contrast, large majorities of the three youngest typology groups–Solid Liberals (77%), the Next Generation Left (72%) and the Republican-leaning Young Outsiders (65%)—say society is just as well off without people prioritizing marriage and having children.
Free trade is supported by most typology groups, including 73% of the Next Generation Left and 68% of Business Conservatives. Steadfast Conservatives are the only group where more say free trade agreements have been a bad thing (51%) rather than a good thing (39%) for the U.S.
The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)
Overall, more disapprove (53%) than approve (41%) of the health care law. Overwhelming percentages of Business Conservatives (97%) and Steadfast Conservatives (94%) oppose the law, with about nine-in-ten in each group expressing very strong disapproval (88% of Business Conservatives, 90% of Steadfast Conservatives). Most Young Outsiders (71%) disapprove of the law, 53% very strongly. And even among the Democratic-leaning Hard-Pressed Skeptics, there is more opposition (53%) than support (40%).
Among those who have heard of the standards, 45% say they favor Common Core while 39% are opposed. Intense views on the issue, while not widely held, are more prevalent among those opposed than in favor of the standards: 15% say they strongly oppose Common Core, compared with 9% who strongly favor it.
The two solidly-Republican groups, Steadfast and Business Conservatives, oppose Common Core by more than two-to-one (61%-25% and 61%-23%, respectively). By contrast, majorities of the Democratically-oriented Next Generation Left (56%), Faith and Family Left (55%), and Solid Liberals (53%) say they favor the Common Core education standards.
There are only modest differences in views across typology groups on this question. At least half of all groups say they favor legal casino gambling in their state.Most Americans say they favor legalized casino gambling in their state (61%), while only about half as many say they are opposed (33%).
Steadfast Conservatives express the greatest level of concern over legalized gambling in their state: 51% favor it, 45% are opposed.
Support is highest among Young Outsiders (72%) and the Next Generation Left (70%), the two youngest typology groups.
Overall, 81% of Business Conservatives and 72% of Steadfast Conservatives say the phrase “often feel proud to be American” describes them well. These are by far the highest percentages across typology groups. Smaller majorities of the Faith and Family Left (59%), Next Generation Left (56%) and Young Outsiders (56%) say they often feel a sense of pride in being American.
However, Hard-Pressed Skeptics are divided – about as many say they often feel pride in being American (51%) as do not (49%). And just 40% of Solid Liberals say they often feel pride in being American; 60% say that characterization does not fit them well.
About seven-in-ten Business Conservatives (70%) and Steadfast Conservatives (68%) say the phrase “honor and duty are my core values” fits them. Far fewer in the other typology groups, including just 40% of Solid Liberals, say this description applies well to them.
Religious Affiliation and Practice
Steadfast Conservatives are one of the most religious groups in the typology. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) identify as Protestant, a much higher share than among the public overall (49%). And the share of Steadfast Conservatives who are white evangelical Protestants (43%) is more than twice as large as in the public generally (18%).
The Democratic-leaning Faith and Family Left are as likely as Steadfast Conservatives to be affiliated with a religion (just 7% are unaffiliated), but fewer are white evangelical Protestants and somewhat more identify as Catholic.
Solid Liberals are the least religious group – 41% are not affiliated with a religion; 10% describe themselves as atheists, 9% say they are agnostic and 22% say they are “nothing in particular.”
Most Steadfast Conservatives regularly attend religious services. Overall, 55% say they attend weekly or more. The Faith and Family Left are nearly as likely to go to religious services at least once a week (51%).
Many Business Conservatives also regularly attend services: 47% go at least once a week, compared with 35% of the public as a whole.
Only about two-in-ten of the Next Generation Left (21%) and Solid Liberals (19%) go to religious services weekly, making them the two typology groups least likely to be regular attenders.
Addendum: Pew’s political typology
Steadfast Conservatives – This overwhelmingly Republican group holds very conservative attitudes across most issues, including social policy and the size and scope of government. However, they are critical of business and Wall Street. Steadfast Conservatives also express highly negative attitudes toward immigrants and take a skeptical view of U.S. global involvement.
Business Conservatives – Business Conservatives are traditional small-government Republicans. Overwhelming percentages think that government is almost always wasteful and it does too much better left to businesses and individuals. Business Conservatives differ from Steadfast Conservatives in their strong support for Wall Street and business more generally. Most think that immigrants strengthen the country and take a positive view of U.S. global involvement. They are less socially conservative than Steadfast Conservatives.
Solid Liberals – Highly educated and affluent, Solid Liberals strongly support the social safety net and take very liberal positions on virtually all issues. Most say they always vote Democratic and they are unflagging supporters of Barack Obama. Solid Liberals are very optimistic about the nation’s future and are the most likely to say that America’s success is linked to its ability to change, rather than its reliance on long-standing principles. On foreign policy, Solid Liberals overwhelmingly believe that good diplomacy – rather than military strength – is the best way to ensure peace.
Young Outsiders – This relatively young, largely independent group holds a mix of conservative and liberal views. And while more lean toward the Republican Party than the Democratic Party, Young Outsiders express unfavorable opinions of both major parties. They are skeptical of activist government; a substantial majority views government as wasteful and inefficient. Yet they diverge from the two conservative typology groups – Steadfast Conservatives and Business Conservatives – in their strong support for the environment and many liberal social policies.
Hard-Pressed Skeptics – Deeply financially-stressed and distrustful of government, Hard-Pressed Skeptics lean toward the Democratic Party but have reservations about both political parties. They want government to do more to solve problems, but have doubts about its efficiency. Hard-Pressed Skeptics are dissatisfied with conditions in the country and their communities. They are among the most cynical about the ability of individuals to improve their lot through hard work. These attitudes may reflect their distressed financial conditions: Hard-Pressed Skeptics have the lowest family incomes of any of the typology groups.
Next Generation Left – Young, well-educated and financially comfortable, the Next Generation Left have very liberal attitudes on many issues, including homosexuality and abortion, the environment and foreign policy. They are supportive of an activist government, but wary of expanding the social safety net. They also have relatively positive views of Wall Street’s impact on the economy. While most affiliate with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic, few consider themselves strong Democrats.
Faith and Family Left – The Faith and Family Left combine strong support for activist government with conservative attitudes on many social issues. They are highly diverse – this is the only typology group that is “majority-minority.” The Faith and Family Left favor increased government aid for the poor even if it adds to the deficit and believe that government should do more to solve national problems. They oppose same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana. Religion and family are at the center of their lives.
Bystanders – Bystanders are on the sidelines of the political process, either by choice or because they are ineligible to vote. None are currently registered to vote. Most follow government and public affairs only now and then (32%) or hardly at all (32%).