While Parties Become More Divided, Many Americans Can Find Common Ground

On June 26, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a 185-page report titled, “Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology.” What makes this report so interesting is that it does not simply sort respondents into the inflexible “Republican,” “Democrat,” or “independent” labels. Instead, it divides voters into eight nuanced political typologies.

These smaller, more precise groupings ranged from the furthest right, the “Steadfast Conservatives,” to the furthest left, the “Solid Liberals.” However, there are three independent groups worth focusing on: “Young Outsiders,” “Hard-Pressed Skeptics,” and the “Next Generation Left.”

Before examining these three groups, however, here is a brief summary of what the Pew survey revealed about the typologies most loyal to the two parties.

The report suggests that the Republican Party is generally split between Steadfast Conservatives, who make up 12 percent of the general public, and Business Conservatives, who make up 10 percent of the general public. These two groups agree on several issues: disapproval of President Obama, suspicion of the government, and general criticism of government-sponsored social welfare programs. However, the two groups also clash on some important issues.

Business Conservatives tend to believe that society should accept homosexuality, tend to support immigration, and tend to be more interventionist on foreign policy issues, while Steadfast Conservatives disagree.

The internal differences within the Democratic Party are much less pronounced, but should be no less concerning for Democrats. The party is a coalition of Solid Liberals, the Faith and Family Left, and the occasional support of the Next Generation Left. However, the coalition is frayed in some areas.

The Faith and Family Left tend to be less accepting of homosexuality, while the Next Generation Left disagree with the other groups on the issue of incurring additional government debt to help the needy. Solid Liberals, unlike the other two typologies, tend to believe that hard work is not necessarily a guarantee of prosperity.

What the Pew survey indicates about the internal dynamics of the two parties is not, however, surprising or new. Where the report becomes ground-breaking is the way that it sheds light on the political center in America.

Young Outsiders, the Next Generation Left, and the Hard-Pressed Skeptics were the only groups that had more than 30 percent of respondents say they voted for both parties equally. These three typologies may have definite partisan leanings, but they are by no means absolutely loyal to the two parties.

Additionally, these groups share common ground.

Young Outsiders and the Next Generation Left — while they lean different ways on the political spectrum — both generally believe that society should accept gay marriage, agree that most people can get ahead if they are willing to work hard, and think of themselves as upbeat and optimistic.

Meanwhile, the Next Generation Left and Hard-Pressed Skeptics, even though one is relatively affluent and the other is generally lower-income as a result of economic constraints, agree that government aid to the poor does more good for society than harm, and have a shared fondness for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Clinton has 62% favorability among Hard-Pressed Skeptics and 70% favorability with the Next Generation Left).

Even the Young Outsiders and the Hard-Pressed Skeptics can find common ground on several issues. Both believe that government regulations hurt businesses, that the United States should focus more of its attention at home, and that American involvement in difficult situations abroad only exacerbates those problems.

These groups agree with each of their counterparts on different issues, but there are many things they all agree on. All three of these typologies believe that the current economic system in America unfairly favors the powerful, that diplomacy is more effective than military strength at keeping peace abroad, and that America’s greatness resides in its ability to change.

In conclusion, the Pew Research survey reveals that there isn’t a single political center group in America, but rather a collection of groups that lean slightly one way or the other on the political spectrum. In Pew’s analysis of the results, it states that “both parties face formidable challenges in reaching beyond their bases to appeal to the middle of the electorate and build sustainable coalitions.”

Young Outsiders, Hard-Pressed Skeptics, and the Next Generation Left make up almost 40 percent of the general public, but barely over 30 percent of these Americans are considered “politically engaged.” In order to increase voter turnout from the center, politicians in the United States first need to understand that the center, as portrayed by the Pew Research survey, is far more complex and diverse than they think.

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