THE PUBLIC EYE:Getting Democrats to Vote

Bob Burnett
Thursday July 03, 2014 - 01:29:00 PM

After an absence of several years, the new Pew Research Center political typology poll was just released. It breaks the American political electorate into eight groups. And, it makes clear what the Democratic challenge is in November midterm election.. 

The Pew political typology has two dimensions. One is the likelihood of voting. Pew factors voters into three categories: “General Public,” “Registered Voter,” and “Politically Engaged.” I’ll assume the “Politically Engaged” are those likely to vote in the November midterm election and focus on those percentages. 

The second Pew dimension is the degree of partisanship. Pew sees three clusters. The first is “The Partisan Anchors,” the Republican and Democratic base: “Steadfast Conservatives” (19 percent), “Business Conservatives” (17 percent), and “Solid Liberals” (21 percent). Steadfast Conservatives are “staunch critics of government and the social safety net and are very socially conservative.” Typically they are described as Tea Party Republicans. Business Conservatives “share Steadfast Conservatives’ preference for limited government, but differ in their support for Wall Street and business, as well as immigration reform.” In most cases, they would vote for the Republican candidate, but if he or she is a Tea Party member Business Conservatives might vote for a centrist Democrat. Thus, in 2016, if Texas Senator Ted Cruz is the Republican candidate and Hillary Clinton is the Democratic candidate, some Business Conservatives will vote for Hillary. 

(With regards to global climate change, Steadfast Conservatives don’t believe it is happening. Business Conservatives have a more nuanced view. They reject it or the logical consequences because it is bad for business. They’re not ignorant; they’re greedy.) 

The second Pew cluster is “Less partisan, less predictable” and has four groups: “Young Outsiders” (11 percent), “Hard-Pressed Skeptics” (9 percent), “Next Generation Left” (11 percent), and “Faith and Family Left” (12 percent). Young Outsiders “lean Republican but do not have a strong allegiance to the Republican Party.” Hard-Pressed Skeptics 

Have been battered by the struggling economy, and their difficult financial circumstances have left them resentful of both government and business. Despite their criticism of government performance, they back more generous government support for the poor and needy. Most Hard-Pressed Skeptics say they voted for Obama in 2012, though fewer than half approve of his job performance today.
Next Generation Left “are young, relatively affluent and very liberal on social issues... But they have reservations about the cost of social programs.” Faith and Family Left “lean Democratic… But this very religious, racially and ethnically diverse group is uncomfortable with the pace of societal change…” 

The third Pew cluster is “Bystanders,” 10 percent of the population that is not registered to vote. 

The Pew typology makes clear the problem for Republicans. Wherever there is a Tea-Party candidate, the Steadfast Conservatives will turn out to vote, but the Business Conservatives and Young Outsiders may either stay at home or vote for the Democratic candidate if they are not perceived as liberal. (Thus, in the Colorado Senate race, incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Udall tries to paint his opponent, Republican Congressman Cory Gardner, as ultra conservative – Gardner does not believe in global climate change. Gardner decries Udall as a liberal with close ties to President Obama.) 

The midterm problem for Democrats is that they first have to get their base out to vote: Solid Liberals (21 percent), Next Generation Left (11 percent), and Faith and Family Left (12 percent). But this is only 44 percent of the probable electorate. To prevail in November, Democrats have to win back the Hard-Pressed Skeptics (9 percent) who voted for Obama in 2012 but are disillusioned. 

The Pew typology helps us understand Hard-Pressed Skeptics: 

Only about a third of Hard-Pressed Skeptics (32%) say they work-full-time… About six-in-ten (61%) are white, non-Hispanic… About half (51%) are 50 or older, which is somewhat higher than the share of older Americans in the public (44%).
Members of this group are not well informed. “Just 39% of Hard-Pressed Skeptics say they are interested in government and politics, the lowest percentage of any typology group.” On the other hand, they have a Democratic perspective: “Seven-in-ten (71%) Hard-Pressed Skeptics say the poor have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently.” Nonetheless, Hard-Pressed Skeptics have mixed political allegiance, “51% plan to vote for the Democrat in their congressional district, while 37% plan to vote Republican.” 

To reengage these voters, Democrats have to appeal to them on bread-and-butter issues. This won’t be the Affordable Care Act, where Pew reports that only 40 percent have a favorable view. However, 66 percent of Hard-Pressed Skeptics believe “Government should do more for the needy even if it means going deeper in debt.” In the Colorado Senate race, Democratic Senator Mark Udall is attacking his opponent for failing to support a minimum wage increase. 

What remains to be seen is whether the Hard-Pressed Skeptics will actually vote. Given how preoccupied they are with economic survival, the only way that Democrats can reengage with these voters is face-to-face contact. This suggests that the strength of the Democratic ground game will determine the success of beleaguered Democratic candidates On November 4th. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at