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If the GOP is a nation at war, Democrats are a coalition government

Activists hold a protest near the Manhattan apartment of billionaire and Republican financier David Koch on June 5 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

For years now, we have seen the divides within the Republican Party playing out in full view in GOP primaries, leadership races and even on the floor of Congress.

It almost makes us forget that their opponents were once the party of factionalism and chaos.

Well, it seems Democrats have simply been better at hiding/getting past their internal divides, because a new poll shows that those divides still exist -- in some pretty stark terms.

Take religion. The Pew Research Center asked whether people thought it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral. Among one reliably Democratic group ("Solid Liberals"), just 11 percent agreed with that statement. Among another ("Faith and Family Left"), it was 91 percent. That's an 80-point gap between two groups that both voted overwhelmingly for the same guy in 2012.

Big divides also exist between those two groups on issues of self-determination (53 points), racial discrimination (49), the acceptance of gays (50) and whether the government should go into more debt to help the needy (35).

Check out the bottom part of this chart:


Many of these differences can be chalked up to religion and race. While "Solid Liberals" are 69 percent white and almost half rarely or never attend religious services, the "Faith and Family Left" is heavily minority (57 percent) and very religious, with 85 percent saying religion is very important to them.

As we've written before, Democrats have long incorporated more socially conservative minority groups into their coalition because they're on the same page economically and on other issues. So it's not all that surprising to see these social-issue divides still exist in today's Democratic Party.

But it's not just that split. There's more.

Pew has also identified a third reliably Democratic group. The "Next Gen Left" is younger and socially liberal, but departs from traditional liberals in its more free-market ideas toward the economy.

"Next Gen Left" emphasizes the national debt over increasing aid to the poor and is very unlikely to view racial discrimination as a problem for blacks. On both of these issues, this group is well to the right of the other two. But it also clearly sides with liberals on almost every social issue and with religious voters on a whole bunch of economic issues.

In fact, on issue after issue, you see that pattern playing out.

On the economic side, there's Keystone XL...


...and views of Wall Street...


On both of these, the younger group of Democratic-leaning voters is aligned more with the more religious folks and minority Democrats.

But that changes when you shift to social issues.

On abortion...


...and gay marriage...


...and evolution...


...and the Bible...


The total picture is one of three groups, all who voted at least 70 percent for President Obama in 2012 but who have very different priorities on a lot of major issues.

As the Democratic Party continues to evolve in the years and decades ahead, you can bet that these fissures will pop up here and there. For now, the GOP has pretty well cornered the market on in-fighting.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.



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