July 3, 2014

Think Beyond Just Red and Blue in Politics

By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:


Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced their 5-4 decision in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby finding that closely-held corporations, based on sincerely held religious beliefs, can exempt themselves from a requirement to provide certain contraceptive services as part of their employee health plans. Predictably, the news cycles and the social media spheres went nuts, with conservatives proclaiming a victory for religious liberty and a blow to the Affordable Care Act, and liberals bemoaning an expansion of corporate personhood, as well as another limit on women’s reproductive freedom. Once again, the stark differences in the public’s reactions can make you feel like there are really two Americas, blue and red, living in very different realities. Aside from the moments like this one and the 2012 election where there seem to be just two groups, a closer and more fine-grained look at political values and attitudes actually reveals a broader political spectrum. 

According to a recent Pew Research report, the political types that define the American ideological landscape extend beyond liberal and conservative or Democrat and Republican. Based on Pew’s comprehensive study, there are eight reliable and broad categories that an individual might fall into. These are useful distinctions for those who analyze the American public, and take into account the distinctions in economic, governmental, and social views, as well as differing levels of party attachment and political engagement. For litigators looking to study a potential jury pool, political leaning has tended to be one of the more reliable demographic predictors, with Democrats being more pro-plaintiff and anti-corporate in a way that influences their likelihood to find for an individual over a large company. Armed with the eight categories and their more specific distinctions, jury consultants and trial lawyers can gain additional insight on a number of the key attitudes that influence litigation: the role of government, whether protection is found in self-reliance or external help, and whether big business is a positive or a negative force in our lives.

Eight Kinds of Political Identity

Pew researchers have developed a political typology that uses people’s expressed attitudes and values to sort them into eight groups, allowing a greater precision than the simple and binary Right versus Left divide. Developed over the past 27 years, the typology has been recently buttressed based on a 2014 national survey of more than 10,000 American adults. Using a battery of only 23 questions, the data reliably identifies the specific group that any individual is closest to. You can find out which group you fall into by taking the test.

Here are the eight groups.

Solid Liberals

    • Progressive attitudes on nearly all issues
    • Well-educated and affluent, preferring an urban lifestyle
    • Reliable Democratic voters
    • Optimistic about the future of the country
    • 15 percent of the population

Faith and Family Left

    • Lean Democratic
    • Highly religious and racially diverse
    • Confident in the government’s ability to solve problems
    • Distinct from Solid Liberals in opposing drug legalization and same-sex marriage
    • Concerned about the pace of change on social issues
    • 15 percent of the population

Next Generation Left

    • Young, well-educated and relatively well-off
    • Very liberal on social issues
    • Less trusting in the government
    • Concerned about the cost of social programs and wary about spending
    • 12 percent of the population

Hard-Pressed Skeptics

    • Likely to be hard-hit by the economy
    • In favor of more government support for the poor
    • More likely to be anti-immigrant
    • Resentful of government, business, and politics
    • 13 percent of the population

Young Outsiders

    • Lean Republican, but without a strong allegiance to the party
    • Support limited government, but liberal on social issues
    • Less likely than other conservatives to follow politics or events in government
    • Skeptical of social programs and likely to believe the government does more harm than good
    • 14 percent of the population

Business Conservatives

    • Supports limited government, believing government to be wasteful and inefficient
    • Supports Wall Street and big business
    • Supports market solutions instead of government solutions, e.g., for poverty
    • Moderate on social issues
    • 10 percent of the population

Steadfast Conservatives

    • Socially conservative Republicans
    • Likely to be religious and to attend church regularly
    • Intense critics of the federal government as well as the social safety net
    • Believes problems like equal rights or the environment are grossly exaggerated
    • 12 percent of the population


    • Non-voters and non-affiliated with any party
    • Not engaged by the political process, and not interested or informed in political issues
    • 10 percent of the population

Pew’s website has an excellent interactive page, where you can see how these groups compare on a number of attitudinal issues regarding general politics, specific policies, social issues, and demographics. Depending on the case, litigators may want to focus on persuading them differently. For example, Solid Liberals might be persuaded by emphasizing the core values of “care” or “equality,” and by framing your preferred result as the one that is more fair and better in drawing on the government’s ability to right wrongs. For the Next Generation Left, though, you might include these core values while adapting to a greater skepticism of the power of institutions, including the courts, to really make a difference. For Business Conservatives, you might emphasize the practicalities of your case, while for Steadfast Conservatives you might emphasize instead those rock-ribbed and time-tested traditional values. And for Bystanders, you had better appeal strongly to personal relevance instead of abstract principles.

Of course there is no simple recipe, and even within these categories you will see a great many differences between people. Still, adding categories to our political spectrum — in community attitude surveys, focus group recruits, and jury selection analysis — can help us to see a more refined picture of political difference.


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Photo Credit: ptmoney.com, Flickr Creative Commons


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