The most interesting findings — and the most interesting chart — from Pew’s mega survey

at 01:39 PM ET, 06/05/2012

Since 1987, Pew has been asking Americans a battery of 48 questions testing their political values. The result is one of the most comprehensive records we have of changes in the country’s political culture. Suzy already posted one of the key findings from the latest release: Party polarization is rising. Here’s their chart summing up how the parties have split across 12 issues:

And here are a few more of the study’s most interesting findings:

— “Both parties’ bases have often been critical of their parties for not standing up for their traditional positions. Currently, 71% of Republicans and 58% of Democrats say their parties have not done a good job in this regard.”

— “Republicans are dominated by self-described conservatives, while a smaller but growing number of Democrats call themselves liberals. Among Republicans, conservatives continue to outnumber moderates by about two-to-one. And there are now as many liberal Democrats as moderate Democrats.”

— “Swing voters, who make up about a quarter of all registered voters, are cross-pressured. Their attitudes on the social safety net and immigration are somewhat closer to those of Romney supporters, while they tilt closer to Obama supporters in opinions about labor unions and some social issues.”

— “The new survey finds neither growing class differences in fundamental political values, nor increasing class resentment. As in the past, a substantial majority of Americans agree that ‘the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.’ Yet there are no indications of increasing hostility toward the rich and successful. And there are no signs that lower-income people have become more cynical about an individual’s power to control their destiny or the value of hard work.”

— “A large majority agrees that ‘as Americans we can always find a way to solve our problems and get what we want.’”

— “Republicans and Democrats are furthest apart in their opinions about the social safety net. There are partisan differences of 35 points or more in opinions about the government’s responsibility to care for the poor, whether the government should help more needy people if it means adding to the debt and whether the government should guarantee all citizens enough to eat and a place to sleep. On all three measures, the percentage of Republicans asserting a government responsibility to aid the poor has fallen in recent years to 25-year lows.”

— “Just 40% of Republicans agree that ‘It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves,’ down 18 points since 2007. In three surveys during the George W. Bush administration, no fewer than half of Republicans said the government had a responsibility to care for those unable to care for themselves. In 1987, during the Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62% expressed this view.”

— “For the first time in a Pew Research Center political values survey, only about half of Republicans (47%) agree that ‘there needs to be stricter laws and regulations to protect the environment.’ This represents a decline of 17 points since 2009 and a fall of nearly 40 points, from 86%, since 1992.”

— “Democrats have shifted their views in a number of areas in recent years, though less dramatically: They have become more secular, more positive in their views of immigrants and more supportive of policies aimed at achieving equal opportunity.”

— “Roughly three-quarters of Democrats (77%) say they “never doubt the existence of God,” as do 76% of independents. The proportion of Democrats saying they never doubt God’s existence has fallen 11 points over the past decade. Among white Democrats, the decline has been 17 points — from 85% in 2002 to 68% currently.”

— “Democratic support for doing whatever is necessary to improve the position of minorities, including the possible use of preferences, has increased in recent years. About half (52%) of Democrats agree that “We should make every effort to improve the position of blacks and other minorities, even if it means giving them preferential treatment” – an 11-point increase since 2007.”

— “Majorities in all educational and income groups agree that ‘today it’s really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.’ In the current survey, 76% of the public agrees with this statement, about the same as the 74% that agreed in 1987.”

— “Just 22% of swing voters, and an identical percentage of Obama supporters, say they ‘admire people who are rich.’ A much higher percentage of Romney supporters (38%) agree. But swing voters are far closer to Romney voters on the question of whether the government should help more needy people even if it means going further into debt: just 19% of Romney voters and 27% of swing voters agree, compared with a 62% majority of Obama voters.”

— “It is safe to say that there are more political independents in 2012 than at any point in the last 75 years.”

— “In contrast to Republicans, Democrats have grown increasingly diverse. A narrow majority of Democrats (55%) are non-Hispanic whites, down from 64% in 2000. As in recent years, most Democrats are women (59%). And while the average age of self-described Democrats has risen since 2008 – from 46.9 to 47.7 – Democrats continue to be younger than Republicans on average (47.7 vs. 49.7).”

— “The proportion of independents who are Hispanic has nearly doubled – from 9% to 16% – over this period.”

— “In 1987, midway through Ronald Reagan’s second term in office, party was one among many fundamental cleavages in American society. Republicans and Democrats held different values, but the differences were on par with the differences of opinion between blacks and whites, wealthy and poor, or college grads and those without a college degree. This is no longer the case. Since 1987 — and particularly over just the past decade — the country has experienced a stark increase in partisan polarization. Across 48 different questions covering values about government, foreign policy, social and economic issues and other realms, the average difference between the opinions of Republicans and Democrats now stands at 18 percentage points. This is nearly twice the size of the gap in surveys conducted from 1987-2002.”

 
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