The Pew Research Center has a massive panel of over 11,000 randomly selected adults who respond to repeated surveys since the establishment of the panel in 2014. For this survey, 87 percent of the panel responded. Whereas the typical poll may have 1000 respondents and a margin of error of 5 percent, this survey has a margin of error of 1.5 percent.
The figure below summarizes the findings of the many major segments of American political consciousness. Laid out roughly from Right to Left (Right is at the top), we can see that each major party is a coalition of quite distinct ideological persuasions.
You can even see how you stack up by taking an abbreviated survey, much shorter than the panel members took. I turned out to be a card-carrying member of the Progressive Left.
Pew points out that the Progressive Left is the only segment among the Democrats whose membership is majority non-Hispanic White. It is also the most educated segment in either party.
That puts me at the Left end of the spectrum, along with 6 percent of the general sample and 12 percent of Democrats. Pew points out that the Progressive Left is the only segment among the Democrats whose membership is majority non-Hispanic White. It is also the most educated segment in either party.
Republicans, you will not be surprised to learn, have a White majority in all their segments. In fact, other research has shown that the majority of Whites have voted Republican for decades. I think the last time the majority of Whites voted Democratic was in the Johnson landslide that buried Barry Goldwater in 1964. That election is now seen as the beginning of the great movement of Southern Whites from the Democrats to the Republicans, culminating in the election of Reagan in 1980.
The labels in the figure are fairly descriptive. Committed Conservatives (15 percent of Republicans) are the old-line pro-business, affluent crowd who used to lead the party. Glenn Youngkin in Virginia exemplifies the type. To win the governorship he needed the Faith and Flag Conservatives (the Christian Right) and the Populist Right (the Trump crowd).
Both parties have youth wings that are less than fully inspired by their respective parties. The Republicans are labeled the Ambivalent Right and they tend to be libertarian on issues like abortion and drugs. The younger Democrats are the Outsider Left. They tend to be very intense on climate change and racial justice.
The core of the Democratic coalition are the Establishment Liberals and Democratic Mainstays. Both segments are ethnically heterogeneous (more so than the Progressive Left). Joe Biden’s long record probably puts him among Establishment Liberals, but with some excursions into the Democratic Mainstays (as when he opposed school busing, for example). The Mainstays are more likely to call themselves moderates rather than liberals, and tend in fact to be less liberal on issues like immigration or racial justice. No way Biden fits with the Progressive Left, even though he has supported their policy priorities since becoming President.
Note that the entire Republican coalition reaches 40 percent of the general public. The Democratic coalition reaches 45 percent. The main pool of persuadable voters are the Stressed Sideliners, who are financially precarious and politically disengaged. They are not reliable supporters of either party. You can see why the Republicans would find it attractive to reduce the number of Democratic voters, particularly the voters of color among the Democratic Mainstays and Establishment Liberals.
Also note that my cherished Progressive Left only makes up 6 percent of the general public and 12 percent of Democrats. They are probably overrepresented in Congress, but they court disaster if they try to dominate the legislative process. While the Faith and Flag Conservatives and the Populist Right (each with 23 percent of Republicans) really do dominate their party, the Democrats have no equivalent power bloc on their left.
The Progressive Left, while driving a hard bargain to get as much of their agenda as they can, have steadily given up ground in pursuit of agreements with the more moderate wing of their party. The fact is, neither wing can pass anything without the other.
Joe Manchin exaggerated when he said that we are a center-right country, but we certainly are not a left country. Center-left at best.