May 10, 2005

Beyond Red vs. Blue

Part 2: The Political Typology

The 2005 Political Typology is the fourth of its kind, following on previous studies in 1987, 1994 and 1999. While the mood of the American electorate has changed markedly over this period, underlying patterns persist. Many characteristics of the groups identified by the current survey, in particular the ideological positions of Enterprisers, Liberals, and Disadvantaged Democrats, have remained virtually unchanged over the 18 years of typology studies. This consistency reflects the continuing importance of a number of key beliefs and values among some segments of the electorate.

Still, the emergence of national security issues, as well as a fundamental reevaluation of government by both Democrats and Republicans in an era of unified GOP control in Washington, have produced new alignments within each of the two parties, and caused some once relevant groups to disappear. Moreover, religious and social issues continue to divide both within and across party lines, creating challenges to party leaders as they seek to build or maintain their majorities.

Each of the typologies developed by the Pew Research Center has been designed to provide a more complete and detailed description of the political landscape, classifying people on the basis of a broad range of value orientations rather than simply on the basis of party identification or self-reported ideology. Like past surveys, the new typology reveals substantial political and social differences within as well as across the two political parties. It also provides insights into the political attitudes of independents, who make up more than one-third of the American electorate but are far from unified in terms of their values and ideological beliefs.

An Evolving Landscape

There are some notable shifts in this year’s political typology from past studies. The Liberal group has nearly doubled in size over the past six years. The “New Democrats” ­ a key element of the Democratic coalition in typology studies in the 1990s ­ no longer arise as a distinct ideological grouping. This suggests that some of the growth among Liberals comes from former New Democrats, whose views on national security and government regulation have become more polarized after more than four years of GOP control.

The 2005 study also buttresses the finding in 1999 that the Republican Party’s base is now divided into three core subgroups. In both 1987 and 1994 the predominant divisions on the right were between two ideological clusters, Enterprisers and Moralists, defined by the relative emphasis each placed on conservative economic and social values. The 1999 study found, and the 2005 analysis confirms, the development of a critical third element of the Republican base ­ a group we refer to as Pro-Government Conservatives. While this group agrees fully with the religious values of Social Conservatives, and the assertive foreign stance of both of the other Republican groups, its members are predominantly lower income and struggling financially. Perhaps as a result, they favor greater government action in assisting the poor and in regulating business to improve the environment, as well as to protect morality.

As in the past, there are two very different groups in the center, aside from the generally apathetic Bystanders. The Upbeats are affluent and optimistic; the Disaffecteds are struggling financially and much more pessimistic. The Republican Party’s advantage in the ideological center is substantial. Far more Upbeats and Disaffecteds identify with the GOP than with the Democratic Party; when the leaning of those who view themselves as independent is taken into account, the GOP advantage is even more apparent. In large part, this is reflective of Bush’s strong personal appeal among these groups. Among Disaffecteds, Bush is by far the most popular political figure tested and he rates near the top of the list among Upbeats.

In all, the new typology features three Republican-oriented groups, two predominantly independent groups, and three Democratic-oriented groups, plus the politically uninvolved Bystanders. Because a person’s typology assignment is mostly determined by his or her particular beliefs and values, the degree of partisan affiliation varies within each group. On the right, while Enterprisers and Social Conservatives are overwhelmingly Republican, there are many Pro-Government Conservatives who think of themselves as independents (though most say they “lean toward” the Republican party in a follow-up question). Similarly, while the left has two groups of Democratic loyalists (Conservative and Disadvantaged Democrats), many Liberals think of themselves politically as independents (virtually all of these independent Liberals lean Democratic).

Making the Typology

The 2005 Typology divides the public into eight politically engaged groups, in addition to the Bystanders. These groups are defined by their attitudes toward government and politics and a range of other social, economic and religious beliefs. In addition to partisan leanings and self- reported ideology, the typology is based on eight value orientations, each of which is reflected by a scale derived from two or more questions in the survey. They are as follows:

Foreign Policy Assertiveness. Opinions on the efficacy of military strength vs. diplomacy, use of force to defeat terrorism, and Americans’ duty to serve in the military.

Religion and Morality. Attitudes concerning the importance of religion in people’s lives, the government’s role in protecting morality, and social issues such as homosexuality.

Environmentalism and Regulation. Beliefs about the costs and benefits of government regulation of business to protect the environment or the public interest.

Social Welfare. Beliefs about the role of government in providing for the poor and needy.

Immigration. Views concerning the impact of immigrants on American culture and the U.S. economy.

Business Sentiment. Attitudes about the influence of business in American society.

Financial Security. Level of satisfaction with current economic status and feelings of financial security.

Anti-Government Sentiment. Beliefs about the responsiveness of elected officials, and views about government performance.

Individualism. Beliefs about whether all individuals have it within their power to succeed, or whether success is beyond a person’s control.<

These measures of an individual’s overall value orientation on each of these dimensions do not take into account that person’s position on current political issues, such as the war in Iraq or whether gay marriage should be allowed or banned. Instead, they are based on more broadly oriented values questions designed to measure a person’s underlying beliefs about what’s right and wrong, acceptable or unacceptable, or what government should or should not be involved in.