Pew Typologies, part 2

(This is an addition to the previous post, which I suggest you read first.)

Some of the most important findingsĀ  of the Pew typologies concern the growing number of non-partisan voters. This group (people who actually vote but don’t self-identify with either party) has grown substantially in recent years (from 30% to 37% since 2005). But it is not simply a growing pool of centrists who would like to split the parties’ differences. Instead, non-partisans include three separate groups with distinct ideological views, some of which are more staunch than the main bodies in either party. This means that simply being the most centrist candidate in the election won’t be enough to ensure the support of these crucial swing voters.


A pollster in Arizona shared similar findings with me a few months ago. He suggested that this was the single most important trend in Arizona politics over the last thirty years, but also one that was poorly understood by either political party. This latter point was a simple matter of institutional behavior: parties self-definition usually comes from those who win party primaries to become the candidates, office holders, and party officials. But there is absolutely zero incentive within the primary process to appeal to those who have opted out of the party.

Only rarely are those who win a party primary also well-situated to appeal to centrist voters. Instead, centrists either vote for the least-unpleasant option or don’t vote at all, allowing the ideologues to continue running government. This is especially true in states like Arizona where one party enjoys a significant advantage in the number of dedicated partisans. Only when particular circumstances or issues motivate the non-partisans en masse do they provide the crucial difference in swinging the election one way or another. Then the victorious party often makes the assumption that they’ve somehow permanently won over a new majority, only to find themselves abandoned at the next election. (Sound familiar to anyone?)

The ideologically diverse makeup of the non-partisan voter pool complicates matters further. The Arizona pollster noticed more self-identifying liberals and conservatives who nonetheless refused to identify with one party or another. I suspect that he was really seeing what the Pew Research Center report found: a pool of very ideological voters whose beliefs don’t fit neatly with either party’s ideological configuration. The Pew report gave these groups new names, but individual voters being surveyed likely fell back on the familiar terms of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ (and, less commonly, ‘libertarian’) even though those terms didn’t actually fit them particularly well.


These political realities help explain why someone like Gary Johnson (more here and here), who presumably could lead a 10% core of the voting population (Libertarians, as classified by the Pew Report) and appeal broadly to other groups, is instead likely to be a barely-remembered has-run in the Republican primary. This is especially true because he’s up against Ron Paul, whose social views are much more in line with Staunch Conservatives and Main Street Republicans who are likely to vote in the GOP primaries.

7 Responses to Pew Typologies, part 2
  1. Elizabeth
    May 7, 2011 | 4:41 am

    Can you believe I was categorized as Post-Modern?? I think that’s just another term for Fascist Liberal. I think it was all my “pull yourself up by your bootstrap” answers on the economic questions. šŸ™‚ What can I say, it’s the ole farmin’ work ethic.

    • admin
      May 7, 2011 | 1:01 pm

      In answer to your question, I haven’t really dug very deeply into all the categories yet, but yes!
      (Also, I’m sure you can guess where my squishy heart landed me. No cool new categories here.)

    • kaahl
      August 3, 2011 | 4:49 am

      post modern, haaa haaaa (simpsons voice)

  2. Tony
    May 18, 2011 | 7:19 am

    I am also post modern!

    Reminds me of my student teaching days, when I had to tell my students that, I’m here to help you, but you have to do your part too. Seriously, it’s like I have to beg them to do homework so they would pass. Very frustrating to try to help people who won’t help themselves.

  3. Ian
    May 19, 2011 | 9:01 am

    First of all, stop the presses…Ian is MORE LIBERAL than Elizabeth? This poll is broken. I never thought I could be a democrat outside of Utah.

    In all seriousness though, I do have some issues with the presentation of the poll, mainly in the language used. Let me say first that I felt many of the questions were perfectly appropriate in their presentation, but others I feel contained charged partisan terms instead of presenting clear policy positions or opinions on the current state of government. An example would be the first question presented in the poll I took where the first statement speaks of the necessity of government regulation of business, while the second focuses on a perceived outcome of said intervention (negative in nature). There is a huge overlap in these positions — and this is where I personally fall in — where someone who feels oversight of business and say, the securities and derivatives markets, is necessary but who also thinks this can at times make industries and markets even less efficient than they were before fits in. Even when starting with the understanding that the poll asks you to identify the position which most closely fits your opinion, when the two options come from separate points in a process, I do not see how the answer given can maximize the information taken in for the poll. Now, I do not think that there must be a strict either/or set up with two mirroring statements, but I think the language is set up to attract a specific ideology, and when the whole objective of the study is the parsing of said ideologies and the delineation of their sub-groups, I think an issue arises. Questions like the one addressed above limits the descriptive strength of the poll by using questions I find to be a bit of an ideological shortcut. The questions on environmental protection and the efficacy of the government have similar problems in my estimation.

    Sorry, that seems far too much for a blog reply, but I’ve already written it, so this is happening. I would be interested to hear your take on this, Jason.

  4. admin
    May 21, 2011 | 8:53 pm

    I promise to reply to all of this, probably in a third post on the typologies, but it’ll take my a bit longer to do some follow up research. In the meantime, thanks for all your thoughts and comments.

  5. kaahl
    August 3, 2011 | 4:51 am

    Yeah, I didn’t like the question either, so I took the poll two times. One I gave the benefit of the doubt one way, the other, the other way. I came out as a Libertarian and a New-Coalition Democrat. Looking through the more detailed survey about free trade, china, other policy issues, I think the new coalition category is probably the best one for me.