America's Political Divides Run Deeper Than Just Republicans And Democrats

A new study separates the public into nine political groups. Where do you fit in?

As anyone with even a casual interest in politics has probably noticed, the current state of the nation is polarized. Partisan differences, which used to exist as one demographic among many, are now stark dividing lines across Americans’ perceptions of the nation and preferences for policy.

But as a new report from Pew Research shows, both parties are also fragmented by their internal divisions on everything from the role the U.S. should play in global affairs to the inherent fairness of the economic system.

″[E]ven in a political landscape increasingly fractured by partisanship, the divisions within the Republican and Democratic coalitions may be as important a factor in American politics as the divisions between them,” the researchers say in a report published Tuesday. “In some cases these fissures are not new…. Yet, especially within the GOP, many of the divisions now center on the issues that have been front-and-center for Trump since he first launched his presidential campaign.”

Based on a survey taken this summer, Pew divided the nation into nine groups, ranging from “core conservatives” to “solid liberals.” (A quiz to see which of the groups you fall into is available here.)

The groups that make up the Republican coalition share a few things in common: They approve of President Donald Trump, think the government can’t afford to do more to help the needy and believe that “blacks who can’t get ahead are responsible for their own condition.” 

But they disagree on other areas ― and the divide between the two most solidly Republican groups looks in many ways similar to the divides between Trump and his more traditional colleagues in the GOP.

“Core conservatives” are politically engaged and financially comfortable. They think that corporate profits are reasonable, that the economic system is fair, that poor people “have it easy” and that the global economy gives the U.S. opportunity to grow. They’re divided on whether immigrants strengthen or burden the U.S. and are largely untroubled by homosexuality.

“Country first conservatives” ― who, at more than 7 in 10 of those older than 50, are the oldest of any group ― are less educated and deeply concerned that the U.S. risks losing its identity by being too open. Isolationist and socially conservative, they consider immigration a burden on the country and think the U.S. should follow its own national interests over the wishes of its allies.

The metaphor, however, doesn’t translate perfectly. The core conservatives, who believe in the global economy and are (relatively) moderate on immigration, are also the most positive of all about Trump. A near-universal 93 percent approve of his job performance, compared with 84 percent among the country-first group.

Two more groups are generally Republican-leaning. The “market skeptics” dislike banks and favor raising taxes on big business, marking the first time a GOP group has been “deeply skeptical of business and the fundamental fairness of the nation’s economic system,” according to Pew. By contrast, the “new era enterprisers,” the youngest and least overwhelmingly white of the GOP-inclined groups, are more optimistic and strongly pro-business. Approval of Trump among both these groups hovers in the 60s.

The four groups that lean toward the Democratic Party agree that the government has a responsibility to ensure all Americans have health coverage and that there’s more work to be done before the nation reaches racial equality. Their reactions to Trump range from dislike to universal loathing. But they’re divided on the appeal of isolationism, the need for regulation and the role of the government.

“Solid liberals,” by far the largest and most politically active group on the left, are also the whitest, the wealthiest and the most highly educated. Nevertheless, they’re also bearish: nearly three-quarters say that “hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people.” They also stand out for their level of activism: Nearly 60 percent have contacted their elected officials in the past year, far outstripping any other group. Nearly half say they’ve donated money to a candidate, and nearly 40 percent say that they’ve attended a rally or protest since Trump was elected.

“Opportunity Democrats” are less politically engaged. They’re more likely to describe themselves as moderate and to believe that most people can get ahead with hard work, and they are less likely to think women and black Americans face structural obstacles.

“Disaffected Democrats” and the “devout & diverse” are both majority-minority groups. The former are disaffected with the nation, not their party ― they’re “financially stressed,” disenchanted with both the government and the economic system, and have little faith in their ability to make a civic impact. The latter, nearly a quarter of whom lean Republican, stand out for their even greater level of financial hardship and for their level of religious observance.

The ninth group, the young, diverse and overwhelmingly apolitical “bystanders,” are “missing in action”: They rarely vote, if they’re even registered, and don’t pay attention to what’s happening in government.

Pew surveyed 5,009 adults, using phone surveys conducted June 8-18 and June 27-July 9. Live interviewers called both landline and cell phones.