Apparently, our politics is being driven by proud pessimists and disappointed optimists.
At least that’s one conclusion you can draw from the sprawling statistics yielded by the Pew Research Center’s Political Typology report. It takes data gathered from a survey of more than 10,000 Americans, slices it, dices it and divides us up into eight political groups.
On the far right are the Steadfast Conservatives. On the far left are the Solid Liberals. In between, from right to left, are Business Conservatives, Young Outsiders, Hard-Pressed Skeptics, New Generation Left, Faith and Family Left and Bystanders.
But when it comes to political engagement, the fringes are on top.
Steadfast conservatives, decisively Republican and conservative on nearly every issue, make up 19 percent of the most politically engaged in the survey. They trail only the Solid Liberals, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic and think President Obama is dreamy. They own a 21 percent share. Together, that’s 40 percent of the engagement pie.
Eighty-nine percent of Steadfast Conservatives always or nearly always vote, with Solid Liberals at 84 percent. Only Business Conservatives, who like Wall Street and immigration much more than their steadfast neighbors, post a higher voting score at 91 percent. And 59 percent of So-Libs have been involved in one or more political activities during the past two years, contributing money, volunteering for a campaign, etc.
So who are these folks? Steadfasters are 87 percent white and 59 percent male. More than half attend church weekly, have a gun in the house and, for them, “paying bills is not a problem.” Among So-Libs, 73 percent have a college or advanced degree. They’re satisfied with their financial situation and almost half of them never attend a religious service. And 56 percent of So-Libs are female.
Here’s the part I find most intriguing.
Among Steadfasters, 72 percent say they “often feel proud to be an American” and 46 percent say “the U.S. stands above all other countries,” the largest bloc to agree with that statement. And yet, 76 percent of Steadfast Conservatives say they believe the nation’s best days are behind it. Only 42 percent agreed that, as Americans, we can “always find ways to solve problems,” and 55 percent say U.S. efforts to solve world problems usually make things worse.
So we’re proud, but also washed-up and inept.
Among So-Libs, just 40 percent say they often feel proud to be an American, the lowest number among any group. And just barely half consider themselves to be a “typical American,” far, far behind every other group. Only 11 percent of Solid Liberals think America stands above all others.
And yet, 70 percent of So-Libs think the nation’s best days are ahead, making them the most optimistic of any group. Seventy-nine percent think the nation’s ability to change is its biggest reason for success, compared to just 17 percent of Steadfasters.
So we’re a plucky adaptable bunch with a bright future. But don’t lump me in with ‘em. Proud? Meh.
So what? You say.
Well, understanding the Steadfasters and So-Libs means understanding modern American politics. Because today’s political campaigns are aimed straight at them. Maybe they’re outside the mainstream, but, chances are, they’ll be inside a precinct or clutching an absentee ballot.
There’s a lot of talk about critical independents, etc. But winning now is really about pushing, cajoling and scrapping together as many core, base voters as you can, hoping to win by any margin possible.
When Republicans call U.S. Senate hopeful Bruce Braley a pathological liar or Democrats accuse GOP contender Joni Ernst of wanting to impeach the president, the base is really who they’re aiming to energize and motivate. Perhaps you’re a little sketchy on these Koch Brothers or Saul Alinsky. So-Libs and Steadfasters are crystal clear.
Business Conservatives say immigration makes the nation stronger by large margins. And yet, when a businessman such as 1st District Republican Rod Blum runs for Congress, he insists that the children of undocumented immigrants should not even be allowed to attend public schools. Extreme? Well, 73 percent of Steadfast Conservatives say immigrants are a burden and 81 percent say they threaten traditional American values. And Blum can’t win without them.
Maybe you’re shaking your head. And maybe your own disengagement has helped make this happen.
It’s true that the future of politics is likely in the hands of the Young Outsiders, who lean Republican but are far more socially liberal, and New Generation Left, who are liberal but also pro Wall Street and wary of a larger social safety net. But right now, they only reach a tepid mid 40s in the “always vote”category.
But hey, at least they’re not Bystanders, the 10 percent of Americans that Pew found are disengaged from politics, and not even registered to vote. Only a small percentage follow government and public affairs.
I’m hoping to explore this Bystander lifestyle more while I’m on vacation.
l Staff Columnist Todd Dorman appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Contact: (319) 398-8452; firstname.lastname@example.org.