Poll Cites GOP Gains Since 9/11

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, helped redraw the political landscape in America, giving President Bush and the Republicans an advantage over the Democrats, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. But Republicans may have difficulty consolidating the gains because of divisions within their expanded coalition.

The survey underscored how important the issues of terrorism and national security and Bush's personal appeal were in helping the GOP put together a winning coalition of voters in 2004. The findings suggest that Bush's reelection depended not just on motivating the Republican base but also on his success in attracting swing voters and even some Democrats.

Both parties enjoy strong support among their core voters, but the Pew study concluded that Republicans have done a more effective job in attracting support among voters with less allegiance to either party. Bush's campaign attracted support in the middle from well-educated, upbeat voters as well as those who are more down-scale and pessimistic about their own situation.

"In effect, Republicans have succeeded in attracting two types of swing voters who could not be more different," the study reports. "The common threads are a highly favorable opinion of President Bush personally and support for an aggressive military stance against potential enemies of the U.S."

Foreign policy issues now provide the clearest distinction between Republican- and Democratic-leaning voters, with Republicans favoring assertive policies and military action and Democrats calling for diplomacy and multilateral strategies. Before the Sept. 11 attacks, foreign policy differences played a minimal role in distinguishing the party coalitions.

One other important difference defines the Democratic- and Republican-leaning voters. Those who tilt to the GOP are more personally optimistic and believe in the power of the individual, regardless of income, while those inclined toward the Democrats are more negative or even fatalistic in their attitudes about the future.

The study concluded that while the landscape tilts toward the Republicans, the GOP has not yet posted significant gains in party identification. Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Center, also said internal fissures could cause the Republicans problems in the future. GOP-leaning voters split over such issues as whether the government should do more to help the needy, over whether power is too concentrated in the hands of a few corporations, over whether government regulation of business protects the public interest, and over the environment and immigration.

But Democrats are also divided, particularly on cultural issues such as homosexuality and whether the government should be involved in moral issues. Like Republicans, they are split over immigration.

The Pew study was the fourth in a series that began in 1984 and is designed to provide a political typology of the country. The study was based on two polls, one in December of 2,000 people and a follow-up in March with 1,090 people from the original sample. From those surveys, the Pew Center divided the country into nine groups -- three mostly Republican, three mostly Democratic, two in the political middle and one on the political sidelines.

Three groups make up the core of the GOP coalition. One is called Enterprisers, generally affluent, mostly male, patriotic, pro-business and very conservative. A second is called Social Conservatives. This group is mostly female, strongly religious, financially secure and skeptical toward business. The third is Pro-Government Conservatives, a group of largely younger, female and religious people who are struggling financially.

The Democratic groups include Liberals, the largest bloc in the study. They are well-educated, affluent, secular, strongly opposed to the Iraq war and to an assertive foreign policy, and strongly in favor of gay rights. The Liberal group has expanded since the last study, in 1999, while a once-distinguishable bloc of New Democrats has largely disappeared.

A second group, Disadvantaged Democrats, are less educated, more female, worried about their financial situation and more concerned about immigration but not the environment. Conservative Democrats are the most religious of the Democratic groups -- generally middle-class and older and somewhat more hawkish that other Democrats. Minorities are heavily represented in the second two groups.

In the middle are two disparate groups: Upbeats are moderate, relatively young, well-educated, positive about their futures and strongly pro-Bush. Disaffecteds are less educated, less financially secure and cynical about government. They backed Bush last fall, but in smaller numbers than the Upbeats.

"People we're describing as Upbeats and people we're describing as Disaffected had a positive view of Bush's security policies," Kohut said. "The September 11 attacks and the war on terrorism redefined Bush, and that's what carried him" to reelection, he added.

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