Are you conservative, liberal or moderate?

Political labels may be too simple, misleading.

by | April 10, 2022

Americans are continually reminded about the three-way split in political orientation and the resulting deep partisanship. Some new reports find this is too simple. And it looks only at your politics, not the effect of your personality and values on your choice. Photo by Maria Vonotna/iStock.com.

Conservative, liberal, moderate. That’s how politics divide. 

Which are you? If you classify yourself in one of these groups, it should tell me a lot about your party affiliation and your views on major issues. 

Maybe not. Americans are continually reminded about this split in political orientation and the resulting deep partisanship. But some new reports find that this three-way split is too simple. And it looks only at your politics, not the effect of your personality and values on your choice.  

Recently, the Pew Research Center, a respected neutral organization, studied American voters and identified nine separate political groups, not just three. Four reveal varying degrees of conservatism, four are on the liberal scale and one is in the middle.

The Pew report concluded, “…the gulf that separates Republicans and Democrats sometimes obscures the divisions within both partisan coalitions — and the fact that many Americans do not fit easily into either one.”

Using Pew’s classifications, the middle of the spectrum is occupied by Stressed Sideliners (15%) plus the Ambivalent Right (12%) and the Outsider Left (10%). All three groups, amounting to more than a third of the people, share some disdain for politics and habitually vote less than do other more faithful groups.

If the political battles seem to be about how to win over this political center, the effort may be a waste of time. These groups are already voting – with their feet — by not voting as much as others.  And they agree on little among themselves. That provides little hope for their being the core of a new party.

The three groups on the right, beginning with the most conservative, are Faith and Flag Conservatives (10%), Committed Conservatives (7%) and the Populist Right (11%). That’s a total of 28% of all possible voters.

On the left, the three groups from most liberal toward the center are the Progressive Left (6%), Establishment Liberals (13%) and Democratic Mainstays (16%), yielding a total of 35%.

For anybody who thinks most people agree with them on policy, the clear answer is that they don’t.

Still, as expected, the Republicans are conservatives and the Dems are liberals and now seem not to mind that label.

Among conservatives, Faith and Flag and Populists adherents are more pro-Trump than are the Committed Conservatives. Among liberals, there’s a gap between Progressives, who want a much larger government, and others.

Within the two parties, conflicts have come into the open. Who are the RINOs — Republicans in Name Only? Are they the Trump Faith and Flaggers or the Committed Conservatives? If either side fails to choose the GOP’s candidate, will it still turn out to vote?

The Democrats have long been the more diverse party. You don’t hear anything about DINOs. Still, will the Progressive Left fall in line with the party as Joe Biden moves it more to the center, or will they stay home?

There is one stark partisan difference. All four Democratic leaning groups believe more work is needed to deal with racial bias. The GOP groups believe little more needs to be done. 

Beyond the Pew analysis, there are some other examinations, attempting to explain why some women are Republicans and some men are Democrats, both against the stereotype. They find your personality may dictate your political views.

The dividing line seems to exist between authoritarian and communitarian people, a traditional distinction between masculine and feminine values. That distinction has blurred, especially as wealthier people become more liberal. And, in the GOP, women are less authoritarian than men.

The Democrats attract more communitarian people, including a majority of white women voters and a greatly increased share of the upper middle class. Meanwhile, the GOP takes lower income white workers from the Dems and retains most men. African Americans are almost solidly Democratic.

Of course, these factors filter through to elections as well as to daily life. For example, when it comes to Covid-19, the most liberal people are also the most worried about its risks. Conservatives are far less concerned.

That translates into public policy. Among the very liberal, some 62% support long-term mask mandates. Only about one-quarter of conservatives agree, though a higher percentage favors vaccinations. Moderates tilt in the direction of the conservatives, which may explain why mandates are being dropped.  They are not politically popular.  

Each person’s vote is influenced by both their personality and their political values. But emerging hot issues of the day also matter. Inflation, Russia-Ukraine developments, a possible Covid flare-up and a Supreme Court abortion decision are still ahead of this year’s elections.

The in-depth analyses show that understanding voters is more difficult than the daily, snap judgments in the media.

That should be a warning about paying too much attention to pundits telling you in April who will win in November.

Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil has been active in politics, journalism, publishing and energy consulting. A graduate of Bowdoin College, he has a master’s degree from the College of Europe (Belgium), and a Ph.D. from Columbia. He is an Army veteran. He was a top aide to U.S. Sen. George McGovern during his run for president. In Maine, he served as Commissioner of Business Regulation, Director of the Office of Energy Resources and the state’s first Public Advocate. He was a Harpswell selectman. He led the negotiations that created the unified New England power grid and chaired the national organization of state energy agencies. He reported for the Washington Post, Newsweek, London’s Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and WNET (New York). His weekly commentary has appeared in Maine newspapers since 2008. He has written or edited 16 books or collections ranging from the biography of Sears, Roebuck to the three-volume U.S. Supreme Court original jurisdiction decisions. His company, sold in 2005, was the largest publisher of state government regulatory codes.


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