Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The New New Left

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The New New Left

Article excerpt

We're heading toward a meritocratic, libertarian-tilting consensus in America. That's my reading of a large-scale survey of political and social views by the Pew Research Center, "Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology." The report's authors are more tentative. They play up the standard academic line: It's more complicated than it looks, which in this case means that there's more going on among voters than a simple left/right dichotomy. Well, yes, but there are clear trends. Although their politics are different, when it comes to deeper values, today's younger liberals align with younger conservatives. Both cohorts marry free-market individualism with an affirmation of lifestyle freedom unhindered by and sometimes antagonistic toward older views of religion, morality, and social solidarity.

The study divides America up into eight groups (an always suspect but sometimes useful exercise in categorizing voters). Steadfast Conservatives and Business Conservatives make up the base of the Republican party. Young Outsiders are anti-government but socially more liberal than other conservatives. They typically vote Republican as well, though not as reliably. Hard-Pressed Skeptics are what an old friend used to call "Lib-Necks" (among whom he proudly counted himself). They're poor, conservative, and distrustful of the system, but the school of hard knocks has taught them the necessary role of government support. Their voting isn't predictable. The Faith and Family Left is part of the Democratic party coalition, but their conservative social views don't have any influence. The defining base of the Democratic party is the Solid Liberals. The Next Generation Left is the survey's name for the rising cohort of liberals who will dominate the Democratic party in future decades. The eighth group is the Bystanders, the 10 percent of the population that gives little thought to politics.

The Steadfast and Business Conservatives, along with the Solid Liberals, are the most politically engaged Americans, constituting more than 50 percent of regular voters. They give money and staff campaigns, serve as conventional delegates, and vote in primaries. They're opposed to each other on any number of issues and have very different basic attitudes toward our society. For example, more than 80 percent of Steadfast and Business Conservatives think that government regulation does more harm than good, while less than 10 percent of Solid Liberals think so. More than 80 percent of the same conservatives think the civil rights movement has done enough to guarantee equal rights for blacks. Less than 10 percent of Solid Liberals agree. A strong majority of conservatives think abortion should be illegal in most cases; less than 10 percent of the liberal base hold this view. A very substantial majority of conservatives think that marriage and family should be a priority; only 18 percent of liberals agree.

The divide is just as deep in foreign policy. Conservatives view military strength as the best way to ensure peace. Only 5 percent of liberals agree. They're also profoundly at odds when it comes to the meaning of our country. More than 70 percent of conservatives agree with the proposition that America has flourished because we have relied on long-standing principles-something one would expect given the basic purpose of conservatism, which is to sustain the authority of long-standing principles. Meanwhile, nearly 80 percent of liberals say that our country has succeeded because of our ability to change, the attitude one would expect from progressives.

This we already know: When it comes to the bases of the Republican and Democratic parties, conservatives are from Mars and liberals from Venus. But among some of the other cohorts, especially among younger voters, an emerging trend closes that gap to some degree. This is especially true for liberals. The Next Generation Left will replace the Solid Liberals who currently dominate the Democratic party. …

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