We tend to think of the political divisions in America rather starkly and traditionally. There are red, blue, and purple states (often displayed on a high-tech cable news map), and Republican, Democratic, and Independent voters. But as the American electorate grows more polarized and the ideological center more heterodox, the Pew Research Center says it's past time for a new classification system. In a study released today, the think tank has sorted Americans into nine political typologies for the modern age, noting their values, demographics, and lifestyles (you can find out which group you belong to here).
Pew says the biggest shift its noticed in the political landscape is that the "long-standing divide between economic, pro-business conservatives and social conservatives has blurred," and a new breed of through-and-through, Tea Party-supporting conservatives--the Staunch Conservatives--has emerged to join the less ideologically rigid Main Street Republicans. On the left, Pew says, the Staunch Conservatives have a polar opposite in the Solid Liberals. But this side of the political spectrum also features two religious, financially troubled, and socially conservative groups: the optimistic, ethnically diverse New Coalition Democrats and the cynical, blue-collar Hard-Pressed Democrats.
Independents, according to Pew, are a mishmash of Libertarians (economically conservative and socially liberal), Disaffecteds (cynical and cash-strapped), and Post-Moderns (young and socially liberal). While a "growing number of Americans are choosing not to identify with either political party," Pew says, these people shouldn't be mistaken as moderate. "Many of these independents hold extremely strong ideological positions," the report notes, "but they combine these views in ways that defy liberal or conservative orthodoxy."
What does this all mean for 2012? ABC's Amy Walter points out that the Republican coalition is "more ideologically cohesive" and politically engaged than the Democratic coalition, which seems like good news. But the bad news, Walter adds, is that "winning over this group in a primary means potentially distancing oneself more than ever from those groups in the center who are the key to winning a general election."
Pew's report comes amidst other recent efforts to categorize the American electorate. Patchwork Nation has carved up counties into types like "Evangelical Epicenters" and 'Mormon Outposts." National Journal's Ronald Brownstein has divided districts into four quadrants based on the "central fault lines" of race and education levels, and has described America's growing racial diversity and aging population as an "intensifying confrontation between the gray and the brown."
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This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.