The Pew Research Center has just released a new study that concludes that a growing number of Americans are choosing not to identify with either political party but consider themselves to be “independent.” However, it says that “rather than being moderate, many of these independents hold extremely strong ideological positions on issues such as the role of government, immigration, the environment and social issues. But they combine these views in ways that defy liberal or conservative orthodoxy.”
The challenge for political leaders, it concludes, is to hold together the disparate groups within their natural constituencies, many of whom may have sharp disagreements with core principles that have defined each party.
There was a time in her life when I believe Elly Peterson would have described herself as a “Main Street Republican,” a phrase Pew now uses to describe about 11 percent of the population. However, while this group is predominately Republican (76 percent), predominately non-Hispanic white (88 percent) and concentrated in the South and Midwest, there the similarities with Peterson’s worldview of 40 to 50 years ago seem to stop. Among other things, the group is “highly critical of government” and opposed to abortion. Twenty-four percent of group members follow NASCAR racing.
It’s probably presumptuous of me to suggest how Peterson would have responded to the Pew questionnaire if she had been alive. But based on interviews I did with her about five years ago, and what I know of the political views she held at the time of her death, I would not have been surprised if Pew would have categorized her as a “Post-Modern.” Members of this group are liberal on social issues and supportive of government regulation, particularly in terms of the environment, but are more conservative in terms of policies on race and the safety net. They believe Wall Street helps the economy more than it hurts, prefer diplomacy to the use of force and are not particularly religious. Twenty-five percent of this group listens to National Public Radio and 14 percent watch The Daily Show.” Interestingly, it is the youngest of the groups that Pew identified—32 percent of its members are under 30.
This group, it seems to me, are really “the New Moderates,” the same kind of people who were attracted to Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity on the National Mall last fall. Elly Peterson always enjoyed hanging out with her younger colleagues, and I think she would have enjoyed hanging out with this group today.
You can go to the Pew site and take a short test to see where you fit on today’s political spectrum.