Thursday, May 12, 2005

Who are we politically? Pew gives us an answer

The Pew Research Center has an interesting analysis on US political typology. The overarching theme is familiar to anyone who even moderately follows politics--the two parties cannot come close to representing most Americans. In the Republican Party, unfettered illegal immigration, to the official tune of one-million new illegals per year (and likely much more than that) is brought to mind. On the Democratic side, social values split the Deans and the Liebermans.

Pew categorizes Americans into nine categories: three on the left, three in the middle, and three on the right. It's not completely satisfying--most notably absent is a category representing Libertarians, who are often classifed on both the left and the right. But for attempting to desribe 300 million people in only nine ways, they do okay. It provides an interesting, though incomplete, template for predicting the future of the two parties. I tried to cut to the pith and relate each category to something concrete.

On the right, the three categories are enterprisers, social conservatives, and pro-government conservatives. Enterprisers are the full-blooded capitalists who love America's entrepreneurial ethos and city-on-the-hill image. Seeing the US as a great country, they support an aggressive foreign policy that simultaneously helps America and betters those we come in contact with. The redistribution income and government obstacles to business are their greatest political concerns. While generally affluent white Christians, they are not particularly religious or overly concerned with social issues. Bush's pledge not to raise income tax rates is red meat to these guys. Think Rush Limbaugh.

Social Conservatives are those condescendingly referred to by the mainstream media as the "religious right". Issues crucial to them are things like abortion, the preservation of American heritage, the nuclear family structure, and immigration. Piously religious, they are most heavily concentrated in the South. While generally free-market oriented, they are skeptical of big business and favor more governmental regulation than do the enterprisers. Contrary to public opinion, they are often concerned with environmental issues and outsourcing. Bush's strong evangelism is a real plus to this crowd. Michael Savage is a spot on example (minus the irascibility!)

Pro-Government Conservatives are the often-overlooked group of Republican voters who are the subject of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? They are the poorest of those on the right, and favor government-provided protection and assistance to the disadvantaged. However, they are socially very conservative, especially on right-to-life issues. What pedantics from the Marxist school of thought (like Frank) fail to realize is that some people who struggle financially still put morality before their pocketbook. While Roe v Wade may never be overturned, the Hyde Amendment is very much in play (it deals with federally-funded abortions, which are currently restricted to health issues and incest/rape). It's tough to put a celeb here, because I'm not aware of any poor ones, but Bill O'Reilly's concern for "the folks" comes pretty close.

On to the left; liberals, conservative democrats, and disadvantaged democrats. Liberals are at Harvard Law School or enjoying the metropolitan atmosphere of New York City and San Francisco. They are well-educated, super-secularist whites who oppose most military intervention and harsh law enforcement while supporting progressive taxes, government subsidies to the poor, and government regulations (especially environmental ones) on business. Same-sex marriage is a cause they champion. They generally see America as a dangerous country that needs to be restrained. Michael Moore is their poster boy.

Conservative Democrats are the party's old guarde. These are the working-class union types who are socially moderate to socially conservative. They tend to be pretty religious and patriotic. Outsourcing is a huge concern, as are falling wages, burgeoning supply and declining demand for labor, and free-trade agreements like CAFTA. They are generally older and racially diverse yet immigration is causing them increasing tension due to the rapid growth in Hispanic employment while less-skilled job growth for other races remains stagnant. Lou Dobbs comes to mind.

Disadvantaged Democrats round out the left. They are the uneducated underclass with little prospect for the future. Skeptical of both government and business, they congregate in urban areas and suffer numerous social pathologies. This group is disproportionately African American. Distrustful as they may be of Uncle Sam, they support large amounts of government assistance to ameliorate their problems. Social issues are not high on their list of concerns. Unlike pro-government conservatives, they understandably consistently vote for their pocketbook. Not sure who characterizes them--maybe Al Sharpton?

In the middle, we find upbeats, disaffecteds, and bystanders. Upbeats are optimistic about their personal future and the future of the US. They are well-educated, financially secure, and keep abreast of current events. However, they do not possess a strong ideological bend and identify more with individual politicians than a political party.

Disaffecteds are similar to upbeats in their lack of allegiance to the left or the right, but unlike their counterparts they tend to be less-educated, financially shaky, and generally pessimistic about the future. The government irks them, as do most groups that interfere with their lives.

Bystanders don't know that "left" and "right" are political terms. They don't go much further than Entertainment Tonight to keep up with current events, and almost never vote... unless it's for the next American Idol.

So there we have it. Where do you fit in? If you're not sure, try letting Pew help you out by clicking here. Did it accurately describe you, or did it miss the mark? A look at these categories provides a nice seque into looking at the future of the Republican and Democratic parties, which is next on the slate.

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