Facing South

Are Southerners liberal? Conservative? Both?

Purple South.jpgLiberal or conservative. Left or right. Red state or blue state. In the world of pundits and elections, the public's political views often get divided and lumped into two -- and only two -- camps.

But as we know, most people don't see the world that way. That doesn't necessarily make them "moderate," a vague and largely useless categorization; often, people hold passionate views about unions or abortion, but have conflicted opinions about other issues. So that leaves open the question: What do we call such people?

For years, the Pew Research Center has been mapping the complicated terrain of political typology in the U.S. Last week, they came out with their latest analysis -- "Beyond Red vs. Blue" -- and, as usual, they came up with findings that were at once both fascinating and common sense.

The upshot: According to their national surveys, there are at least nine different political "types" in the U.S. And most importantly, none of them account for more than 14 percent of the public -- which means, that, in our winner-take-all elections, Democrats and Republicans are constantly trying to win over a majority of these diverse and shifting constituencies.

Pew's findings are especially interesting for the South. It's often assumed that Southern states -- especially Southern white voters -- are inherently conservative, and the region is only dipping into blue state territory thanks to transplants and immigrants.

There's an element of truth to that, but Pew's surveys have consistently shown that the Southern electorate is much more conflicted and complicated than many realize.

For example, Pew's survey identifies two groups that are disproportionately large in the South: "Hard-Pressed Dems" and "Disaffecteds." While Southerners made up 37 percent of Pew's survey respondents, those two groups were over-represented in Southern states, as you can see in this chart:

Southern Political Typologies.JPG

So what are "Hard-Pressed Dems?" According to Pew:

This largely blue-collar Democratic group is struggling financially and is generally cynical about government. Nearly half (47%) expect that they will not earn enough to lead the kind of life they want. Socially conservative and very religious.

Critical of both business and government. View immigrants as an economic burden and a cultural threat. Supportive of environmental protection in general but concerned about the economic impact of environmental laws and regulations.

One of the most striking findings: Only 16 percent of this group agree with the statement that "most corporations make a fair and reasonable profit" -- a view that would seem to make them amenable to consumer and labor reform if those don't get trumped by the "socially conservative" issues on Election Day.

What seems to distinguish "Hard-Pressed Dems" from "Disaffecteds" -- the other group disproportionately strong in the South -- is the latter's pessimism. According to Pew:

Disaffecteds are very critical of both business and government. They are sympathetic to the poor and supportive of social welfare programs. Most are skeptical about immigrants and doubtful that the U.S. can solve its current problems. They are pessimistic about their own financial future.

A majority believe that the government is wasteful and inefficient and that regulation does more harm than good. But nearly all say too much power is concentrated in a few companies. Religious and socially conservative.

In other words, they're similar in outlook to the "Hard-Pressed Dems," but less hopeful, less engaged -- and less partisan (they largely identify as Independents).

But there's another key difference: While "Hard-Pressed Dems" are disproportionately female and African-American, "Disaffecteds" are largely white. While sharing many views and frustrations, the economically struggling white voters are less likely to see Democrats -- or any political party -- as the answer.

My guess is that this points to the conflicted views Southern whites hold about government. But, as with everything else, that issue isn't cut-and-dry, either: Notice that Southerners actually rank low on the "libertarian" category, the group with the most animosity to government involvement in public life.

The upshot: Despite what the Tea Party or libertarian think tanks might say, many Southerners still see a role for government in resolving the problems they and their communities face.

What's your political typology? Take the Pew Research Center quiz here.



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re: Are Southerners liberal? Conservative? Both?

I think this study needs more work as far as the survey goes to determine where you fit. There are sublties there that the questions just don't capture and tend to push you towards a topology that as described fits poorly.

For example, the survey puts me in the Solid Liberal camp when that is not even close to being true, just that the "best answers" tended to push the results that way. If asked, I would actually consider myself more of a Post Modern as the charateristics match more closely with my own personal beliefs regardless of my age being in the 40's.

Interesting distraction, but they need to go back to the lab for more study on this...

re: Are Southerners liberal? Conservative? Both?

The study is a little skewed. We are retirees from New York.
I am a graduate of Hofstra University 1981 honors in Political Science which includes Criminatl Justice and Constitutional law.
I am and will always be a democrat. I also ran for state public office in NY. So did my son. My husband is a 60 years retired member of IUOELocal 138 on Long Island.For your information the largest growing senior population in NC is from up North NY, New Jersey Delaware and Pennsylvania. A lot of our friends went to Florida and because of hurricanes changed there mind and moved to North Carolina
Our son is a desert storm naval veteran. A former 911 responder from LI. By the way we are white and not disaffected.We are more than moderates. The part of wasteful government is the Republicans,that includes Big Oil,Banks. We are retirees that paid into Social Secuirty all our lives and have medicare payments taken out of social security checks each month However since we are in fairly good health I am 69 and my husband is 72 we have never used it. If you touch medicare we would like our money back that was taken out of our checks each month and between both of us( I get my own check as I worked all my life and it is more that 1/2 of my husbands)It now totals over $ 30,000 deducted since we have retired. Instead of vouchers we would prefer a refund or orthewise leave Medicare and Social Security along We see a role of government solutions to the problems facing us now. Especially the elderly middle class like our selves.Raise the taxes on the wealthy and stop subsidizing big oil .