The old divide between fiscal and social conservatives may not be completely gone but it appears to be eroding as more conservatives combine both opposition for abortion and gay marriage with antipathy for deficits and the debt and a desire for significantly lower taxes.
That's one finding from the Pew Research Center which released its latest update of U.S. voters on Wednesday.
Pew last revised the way it describes and categorizes voters in 2005. What it found when it examined the views of American voters this time is an emerging group it calls "staunch conservatives" that blends social and fiscal conservativism.
The most visible shift in the political landscape since Pew Research's previous political typology in early 2005 is the emergence of a single bloc of across-the-board conservatives. The long-standing divide between economic, pro-business conservatives and social conservatives has blurred. Today, Staunch Conservatives take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues – on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns. Most agree with the Tea Party and even more very strongly disapprove of Barack Obama's job performance. A second core group of Republicans – Main Street Republicans – also is conservative, but less consistently so.
On the left, Solid Liberals express diametrically opposing views from the Staunch Conservatives on virtually every issue. While Solid Liberals are predominantly white, minorities make up greater shares of New Coalition Democrats – who include nearly equal numbers 0f whites, African Americans and Hispanics – and Hard-Pressed
Democrats, who are about a third African American. Unlike Solid Liberals, both of these last two groups are highly religious and socially conservative. New Coalition Democrats are distinguished by their upbeat attitudes in the face of economic struggles.
Independents have played a determinative role in the last three national elections. But the three groups in the center of the political typology have very little in common, aside from their avoidance of partisan labels. Libertarians and Post-Moderns are largely white, well-educated and affluent. They also share a relatively secular outlook on some social issues, including homosexuality and abortion. But Republican-oriented Libertarians are far more critical of government, less supportive of environmental regulations, and more supportive of business than are Post-Moderns, most of whom lean Democratic.
Disaffecteds, the other main group of independents, are financially stressed and cynical about politics. Most lean to the Republican Party, though they differ from the core Republican groups in their support for increased government aid to the poor.
Another group in the center, Bystanders, largely consign themselves to the political sidelines and for the most part are not included in this analysis.
The observation that social and fiscal conservatives are melding to some degree may help explain why congressional Republicans who ran largely on an economic message have made it a point to emphasize social issues after taking control of the House.
Meanwhile, political independents remain a complex group for politicians to make an appeal to. Some lean Republican. Others lean Democratic. And others, like the Disaffecteds really confuse the picture, leaning Republican but supporting government assistance to the poor.