Beyond Red and Blue

Political affiliation

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has conducted an exhaustive survey every six years since 1987 on the American political landscape called Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology. The survey seeks to go beyond the nomenclature of liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican; it seeks to identify distinct trends in how people view their government, what their views are on the issues, who they are, and what it is they want.

This in-depth analysis recently led to the creation of nine unique groups of politically invested Americans who share common ground based on their economic, social, and political views, as well as their race, gender, financial stability, religion, media consumption, and behaviors in general: Staunch Conservatives, Main Street Republicans, Libertarians, Disaffected, Post-Moderns, New Coalition Democrats, Hard-Pressed Democrats, Solid Liberals, and Bystanders. Each of these groups do not hold allegiance to a particular partisan party, but each do tend to lean one way or the other, and in general, this recent round found increasing political polarization while more people identify as independents.

This is all interesting stuff for anyone who has an interest in understanding the political environment right now, especially within the context of the Tea Party, the assault on public sector unions, the ferocity of representatives in Congress and state legislatures, and what it bodes for 2012. I’ve been particularly fascinated with visualizing data recently, so I decided to take the major findings of this survey and visualize it for compressed consumption.

On the topic of these political groups, the results of this study help prove the diversity of the American political landscape beyond the simplicity of left verses right. Typically, the extremes of each of the two parties are seized upon by detractors to label the whole -- in this case the Staunch Conservatives as the Republicans and the Solid Liberals as the Democrats. In reality, there is a blending of economic, social, and political priorities, partisan allegiances, and a strong focus on self-interest.

There are several interesting trends that permeate throughout the whole of American politics, affecting each group in the process. Media plays a huge role in shaping the views of all Americans, and the results of this survey clearly shows that media consumption is polarized within political groups, particular the extreme groups (Libertarian, Staunch Conservative, and Solid Liberal); those who listen to NPR and read the New York Times tend to be more liberal in their views, those who consume Fox News, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh tend to be more conservative.

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Compiled data from "Beyond Red and Blue: A Political Typology" by the Pew Research Center for the People and Press, 2011.

Below is a brief summary of each group:

The Staunch Conservatives — best identified as an affluent, highly religious, politically active, and predominantly white male group composed of "birthers", Tea Party sympathizers, free market enthusiasts, and moralists. They generally support economic freedom and government intervention in social affairs. They are also the largest consumers of Fox News, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh in terms of their media diet of all groups. They are also among the smallest represented groups in the typology.

The Main Street Republican — a highly religious and morally conservative group composed mainly of middle aged Mid-Westerns and Southerns who distrust government, immigrants, and social safety net programs, but members break from Staunch Conservatives in their skepticism of Wall Street, corporate profits, and desire for stronger environmental protections. They are more representative of mainstream Republicans than the other conservative political groups.

The Libertarians — a group of largely affluent, white males in the business and professional class who distrust government interference in any aspect of society, whether its social or economic in nature. They are educated, older, and embody the views espoused by the Tea Party (constitutionalism, limited government, and a priority on domestic affairs) even if not in acted in practice. The group strongly supports Wall Street, travel outside the U.S., and are more secular than other GOP-oriented groups.

The Disaffected – one of the most partisan independent groups centered who have been adversely affected by the recession, saw unemployment over the past year, and want the government to do more to assist the needy than to focus in international affairs, including the wars. This group, largely poor, uneducated, and white, is more evenly split on social issues like abortion or gay marriage (or outright not concerned) despite being religious, and are the most politically apathetic outside of the Bystander group.

The Post-Moderns — the youngest, most social network savvy group of the bunch with a diverse media palette, liberal views on morality, immigration, the environment, and international engagement. However, the liberal tendencies of the group is countered by its optimism for Wall Street, its conservative positions members take on racial justice issues, and hesitancy toward domestic spending. The majority of the group lives in American’s sprawling suburbs, finds themselves financially satisfied, and are among the most educated.

The New Coalition Democrats — the most racially diverse political group that tends to be poor, less educated, fairly religious, and dwell in the South. The group tends to digest its media via television or radio. Government intervention in the economy in order to protect the environment, or put a rein on Wall Street and other corporate entities is seen as positive. Gun control is strongly favored, more so than any other group. Perhaps die to its diversity, there is also strong support for a path to citizenship for immigrants and policies to promote racial equality. It represents, however, socially conservative views on moral issues like same-sex marriage, homosexuality, and abortion, though not as rigidly as other political groups with strong religious membership.

The Hard-Pressed Democrats — the second-largest political group composed of mainly poor blue collar workers living in the Mid-West and South with the highest percentage of non-Hispanic blacks and women of all groups. This group, despite its skepticism of both the government and of Wall Street, supports government intervention to protect the environment and offer services to the needy, although members are also concerned about the consequences of environmental regulation on jobs. This group is also highly religious and socially conservative when it comes to moral issues. This financially struggling group has much in common with its more conservative counterpart — the Disaffected; the main difference is perceptions on government intervention via the givings through social safety net. The groups heavy consumption of television media shows the greatest amount of diversity of stations watched among all groups.

Finally, there are the Solid Liberals -- the largest and most educated of all the political groups, this group of predominantly affluent whites are essentially the polar opposite of the Staunch Conservatives group in terms of economic and social policy: they support government intervention in the economy through social safety net programs and regulation, and personal freedom. The group is largely plugged in to social media, listens to NPR, and reads the New York Times far more than any other group. Often called "Progressives", this group is the largest supporters of President Obama right now, and by and large favor a diplomatic and multilateral approach to global affairs, though they are split on domestic and international priorities.

We cannot forget the Bystander group, which is more of a catch-all for the politically disengaged of the country.

To read more by John Osborn checkout his blog, The Bay Reporta.