Released: August 7, 1996
A Demographic and Attitudinal Profile
An analysis of recent Pew Research Center surveys
Republicans… Who They Are
Despite its resurgence over the past 20 years, the Republican Party has never been numerically superior to the Democratic Party. For most of the 1990′s, the two have been essentially equal in this respect. In our most recent surveys, the Center finds 31% of Americans identify themselves as Democrats, 30% as Republicans and 39% as Independent or have no party affiliation. When Independents who say they “lean” to either of the parties are added to those who self-identify, 46% of the voting age population are Republicans or Republican leaners and 46% are Democrats or Democratic leaners.
The two parties draw from different wells, however. Republicans enjoy a clear affiliation edge in many of the demographic categories that make up the traditional core or center of the American electorate. More whites consider themselves Republicans rather than Democrats. Pluralities of suburbanites, Protestants, married people, and those from households with incomes of $30,000 or more also self-identify as Republican. This reflects the Republican party’s “main street” advantage. In contrast, the Democratic party is more attractive to less wealthy and minority segments of the electorate. African Americans are overwhelmingly Democrats, as are a plurality of Hispanics, city dwellers, union workers, whites who earn less than $30,000 per year, singles, widows and divorced people, and single moms.
The parties are also differentiated by gender to a significant degree. A slight plurality of men self-identify as Republicans. The Democrats hold a comparable edge among women. Among white males the GOP advantage swells significantly, while the allegiances of white women divide evenly between the parties. A gender gap is also apparent among African Americans. Many more black females than black males self-identify as Democrats, while black men more often call themselves Independent. Only about 1 in 20 black women or men call themselves Republicans.
Generational patterns of partisanship are also apparent. Democrats hold a decided edge among people 65 years and older — a generation that came of age during the New Deal and which relies increasingly on those government programs like Social Security and Medicare which have historically been more strongly supported by Democrats. Neither party has an advantage among baby boomers (30-49 year olds) or 50 to 64 year olds. Perhaps surprisingly, voters under 30 tilt to the GOP. The partisan gender gap is much more apparent among Americans under 65 years of age than it is among older men and women, who are much more united politically.
The Republican party has achieved significant new converts among white evangelical Protestants and white Southerners. The GOP holds a 17 percentage point advantage over the Democrats among white evangelicals, twice the 8 percentage point advantage among white mainline Protestants. White Catholics, once a bulwark of the Democratic party, are now evenly divided between the parties. Reflecting these trends, Republicans enjoy a sizeable plurality among white Southerners (36% vs. 28% Democrats), even though the two parties are statistically equal in overall numbers in that region (34% Democrats, 31% Republicans).
The Republican party’s recent success in attracting new demographic groups, however, holds the potential for conflict with the “main street” Republicans whose values and attitudes are quite different. For example, 39% of Republicans now have family incomes of $30,000 or less, 26% are non-home owners, 30% are females under 50 years of age, and 28% have never been married or are divorced. The approach of these groups to government programs and big business are often quite at odds with other elements of the GOP.
See Tables A and B.
Republicans… What They Believe
Conservative views about government, business and social welfare issues continue to distinguish Republicans from Democrats and Independents, of course. However, with the growing prominence of white evangelicals within the GOP, views on sexual morality have become as great a distinction between party adherents as the longer-standing conservative-liberal divides. Today, views on abortion and gay marriages differentiate Republicans from Democrats and Independents nearly as much as opinions about government regulation and the profits of corporations. To a lesser degree, views about security issues and the environment also separate members of the two parties. On balance, Republicans are less enthusiastic about environmental protection than Democrats and Independents and, despite the end of the cold war, are more supportive of a strong defense posture.
Members of the two parties also differ in attitudes toward racial issues. In part this reflects the disparate racial compositions of the parties (96% of Republicans are white, compared to 76% of Democrats and 87% of Independents). But in addition, white Republicans are somewhat less sympathetic to the problems of black Americans than are white Democrats.
Independents, as expected, are roughly in between Republicans and Democrats on most values, but when they swing, they more often swing toward the Democrats, even becoming indistinguishable from Democrats on such matters as the environment and whether one must fight for one’s country in all cases. Independents have even lower regard for elected government officials than do members of the two parties. On basic values, Independents who lean Republican are somewhat more tolerant of homosexuality than are self-identifying Republicans, as well as more supportive of measures to protect the environment, and more concerned about the power of big business. Democratic leaners are closer to Democratic party members on these issues.
See Tables C and D.
Republicans… How They Divide
Significant attitudinal fault lines exist within the Republican party by gender, generation and class. These divides impact significantly on Republican support of Dole. In addition to a striking number of GOP liberals who are inclined not to vote for him, there are also disproportionately more women among his Republican non-supporters (60%, vs. 50% women among his supporters) and more poorer Republicans (34% of those with family incomes under $30,000 a year, vs. 26% with this income level among his supporters).
See Table E.
The value gaps between Republican men and women mirror, for the most part, the gender divisions between all American men and women. But this gender gap is greater among Republicans than among Democrats. GOP men tend to be less sympathetic to the needy, while Republican women express somewhat more support for social welfare programs. More than half of GOP men (57%) favor cuts in the rate of growth of spending on Medicare, compared to only one-third of the women (34%). The men favor reliance on military strength to keep the peace, while the women favor diplomacy instead. There are also splits in attitudes toward big business. More women than men feel that large companies have too much power and more think that corporations make too much profit. The sexes also differ on the environment and on attitudes toward homosexuals, with GOP men expressing less support in both cases.
Curiously, abortion is not a contentious gender issue for Republicans. Most general questions about abortion find little difference between the sexes; if anything, men appear somewhat more pro-choice than women. A recent Center survey, for example, found 50% of GOP men said abortion should be either generally available (28%) or available with some restrictions (22%), while 42% of GOP women said it should be generally available (22%) or available with some restrictions (20%).
Republican women are somewhat more likely to approve of Hillary Rodham Clinton (32% vs. 24% of men). They are also slightly less approving of Republican leaders in Congress (71% vs. 79% of men), and are slightly more likely to say they may vote for President Clinton rather than Dole. But they disapprove of Clinton (68% unfavorable) and the job he is doing (68% disapprove) at the same rate as men, and they say they will vote for their GOP Congressional candidates in the same proportion as men (93% of women, 96% of men).
Finally, the Republican gender gap is more pronounced and covers more political values than among Democrats. On attitudes toward the needy and on whether blacks are responsible for their own condition, Democratic men and women are in lock-step. On attitudes toward big business and the environment, the gap is narrower among Democrats. On the virtues of military strength and on social tolerance, the gaps are similar to those found among Republicans.
See Table F.
Republicans under 30 are much less critical of government than their elders: 59% say government is almost always wasteful and inefficient compared to 76% of 30-49 year olds, and 74% of those 50 and over. A similar pattern holds for critical attitudes toward government regulation (57% vs. 65% and 69%, respectively). Young members are also more sympathetic to the poor: 46% of those under 30 years old say government should do more for the needy, compared to 30% of those over 50.
Young Republicans are much less convinced of the virtues of military strength in keeping the peace than their elders (34% of those under 30 vs. 52% of those over 50), and much more likely to say it is acceptable to refuse to fight in a war considered morally wrong (45% vs. 27%). Big differences between the youngest and oldest Republicans are found on attitudes toward the environment (77% of the under 30 group say protect the environment at any cost vs. 56% of those over 65 years of age), on tolerance for homosexuals (45% vs. 24%), and to a lesser extent on whether discrimination is still holding African Americans back (32% of under 30′s say yes vs. 21% of those over 50).
Young Republicans are also surprising in their political attitudes. Most disapprove of the job Clinton is doing, but a significant minority of 30% approve (compared to only 19% of those 50 and older). Fewer of the young people favor Dole (79% vs. 87% of those 65 and over) and fewer call themselves conservative (48% vs. 65% of those over 50). However, much like Republican women, far fewer of the young Republicans follow public affairs most of the time (30% vs. 56% of seniors). In addition, far fewer young Republicans say they “always” vote (34% vs. 57% of the 50 – 64 year olds and 77% of those 65 and over).
See Table F.
The less wealthy and less educated Republicans are more economically anxious than their better off fellow GOP members. As a result, they are more critical of business, of the Republican Congressional agenda, and of minorities such as immigrants. They are also more supportive of an activist government.
In particular, 4 in 10 Republicans with incomes under $30,000 are very concerned about losing or being unable to afford a home, compared to fewer than 2 in 10 GOPers making over $50,000, and a quarter of those in the $30,000 to $50,000 range. The divide between college graduates and non-graduates on this issue is similar (18% of college graduates vs. 34% of non- graduates). It is even greater on being unable to afford health care in the future: 66% of Republicans making under $30,000 are very concerned, vs. 31% of those making more than $50,000. Similarly, 58% of non-college graduates are very concerned about health care affordability vs. 38% of college graduates.
More lower income Republicans believe business profits are too high: 43% of those making under $50,000 believe corporations make too much profit, compared to 27% of those with incomes over $50,000. Those Republicans at the lower income levels are also much less approving of the GOP Congress than those at the higher levels: 63% approval by those earning under $30,000 vs. 84% approval by those earning over $50,000.
Poorer Republicans also fear that immigrants are a burden on the country by taking jobs, housing and health care: 58% of those earning under $50,000 agreed while 42% of those making over $75,000 agreed.
See Table G.