Pew Poll Notes Rise In Independent Voters According to a survey on American political values by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, the proportion of independents is at its highest level in 70 years. Pew President Andy Kohut says there was "no sign of an ideological shift" in the past two years.

Pew Poll Notes Rise In Independent Voters

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

The election of President Barack Obama marked a watershed moment for the United States.

BARACK OBAMA: It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

BLOCK: Well, it's clear that much has changed politically, it's harder to pin down the attitudes underlying those changes. Lucky for us, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has been tracking political opinions and values since 1987, and they've just come out with their latest survey. The Pew Research Center's president Andy Kohut joins us to talk about the findings. Andy, welcome back to the program.

ANDY KOHUT: Happy to be here, Melissa.

BLOCK: Your last survey was two years ago. This one was taken within the last two months or so. What's the most dramatic shift, do you think, that you found?

KOHUT: Most dramatic shift is the extent to which centrism is the dominant factor in public opinion in the beginning of the Obama era. We see the number of political independents at a 70-year high, the Republican Party having lost a lot of adherents and even the Democrats having lost some, coming after the post-election boost that they got. And, most importantly, even though it was a big Democratic win and the Republicans are in freefall, there's no signs of an ideological shift in the public. Values are pretty much the same. It's not like the mid-'90s, when we were showing the public becoming more conservative or, at the beginning of this decade, showing the public was more partisan. The public remains pretty much where it was two years ago on very basic values.

BLOCK: Do you think it's right, though, to equate a growing number of independents with increased centrism? I was struck by one number you found, which is that of that independent group, 33 percent of them say they're conservative. Only 17 percent of them lean Democratic. So is it just a label, as opposed to a really core belief?

KOHUT: Well, if you look at what they say and the way they act, you would say that they are unbalanced centrists. They tend to have relatively conservative views about government, about regulation and come closer to the Republican point of view. But when you get to the hot-button social issues or religion or views about national security, they're right with the Democrats. They provide the balance. That's, in large part, why we haven't seen much in the way of shift. If there's going to be a shift in opinions, if we're going to have an ideological realignment, these independents have to move in some direction. They haven't done it yet.

BLOCK: You know, with the election of our first African-American president, did you detect any kind of movement in either racial attitudes or a shift among the blacks you surveyed of their views toward government and where the country is right now?

KOHUT: Yeah. Post the election of Barack Obama, we find African-Americans having a much more positive view of American society. A greater percentage of them - 62 percent versus 40 percent two years ago - say that this country can solve its problems. More African-Americans feel that voting gives them a say in the government than felt that way two years ago. And a greater percentage of them say that blacks are making progress in this country. Among whites, there's an even larger percentage, as there typically have been, saying that African- Americans are making progress.

BLOCK: Andy, the biggest surprise for you - anything in here that made you just kind of scratch your head and wonder if you were reading the numbers right?

KOHUT: The biggest surprise for me was that people's attitudes toward business and the free market and Wall Street didn't change all that much. The public continues to think that business is what makes this country successful. And they are very reluctant about regulation. Now, this is mostly the views of Republicans, but independents join them in this perception - and some Democrats, but less often Democrats.

BLOCK: Andy Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Andy, thanks very much.

KOHUT: You're welcome.

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