For those familiar with previous Pew political typologies, the 2014 edition features some notable changes. For one thing, the percentages identified for each group–in the past broken down into “the general public” and “registered voters”–now includes a third calculation, “politically engaged,” which gives a better sense of who forms party “bases” gives money and time to the parties and candidates, and votes in low-turnout elections. Thus we see that the three groups of “partisan anchors” represent 57% of the “politically engaged,” although they’re only 36% of the general public.” That’s logical and helpful.

But another difference is more debatable. In 2011 Pew classified voters as “mostly Republican” (25% of registered voters), “mostly Democratic” (40%), and “mostly independent” (35%). Now two Republican “partisan anchor” groups (Staunch Conservatives and Business Conservatives) amount to 36% of the “politically engaged,” while the one Democratic “partisan anchor” group (Solid Liberals) is only 21%. Four “less partisan, less predictable” groups make up 43% of the politically engaged, though three (Hard-Pressed Skeptics, Next-Generation Left, and Faith and Family Left) are identified as leaning Democratic, while one (Young Outsiders) leans Republican. Fully 10% of the general public are typecast as “Bystanders,” because they typically are not registered to vote and are politically disengaged.

The impression this gives is that core Democrats are more united than core Republicans, but need greater outreach to less partisan groups to achieve a majority, especially in low turnout elections. Without buying into the precise subcategories of the “Lean D” groups, I’d say that roughly what most knowledgeable observers perceive. But there’s one reservation to the judgment about the GOP “base:” core Republicans, divided as they sometimes are on social issues, immigration and government aid to business, are completely united in their hostility to Barack Obama. That, too, is intuitively correct.

I’ll have more to say about this typology next week, after staring at it a while. It seems reasonably on point in terms of the balance of forces going into the midterms, assuming a continuation of recent turnout patterns. But it also shows GOP opportunities to add to their base are limited, and that will matter a lot more in 2016 and beyond.


Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.