|DOUG HENWOOD RECENTLY posted on LBO a link to an interesting survey from the
Pew Research Centre on the political attitudes of different segments of the
US population, which I've since had a closer look at. The poll was conducted
in December, 2004, following Bush's re-election. Since that time, public
hostility to the Bush administration and disatisfaction with US foreign and
domestic policy has grown markedly, and, if anything, the political
consciousness of the different components of the US working class described
in the survey is higher now than it was then. In any case, and bearing in
mind the usual caveats about surveys, the nearly three year poll is useful
in considering which sectors of the population are more likely than others
to be attracted to the left if if American society continues to polarize.
The numbers suggest that nearly a third of adult Americans constitute the
left's natural constituency - those described by Pew as "liberals" and
so-called "disadvantaged Democrats".
The liberals were the single largest of the eight political types identified
in the survey. They were estimated to represent 17% of the voting age
population, roughly 37 million Americans, and formed the largest part of the
Democratic base. The poll describes them as being "the most opposed to an
assertive foreign policy, the most secular, (the ones who) take the most
liberal views on social issues such as homosexuality, abortion, and
censorship", the most highly educated, most urban, most pro-environment, and
most pro-immigration. They were also the most educated and second youngest
of all the groups, and had the highest average income of those describing
themselves as Democrats.
The "disadvantaged Democrats" were defined as the "least financially secure
of all the groups" and also the "most anti-business" and the one "most
strongly supportive of organized labor". According to Pew, an estimated
one-third of low-income DP supporters are black, and minorities in general
comprise an unspecified but "substantial proportion" of the party's base. As
a percentage of the overall adult population, the survey estimated they
numbered nearly 10% of eligible voters, or 22 million .
The third major Democratic constituency, "socially conservative Democrats",
were "less extreme...than core Republican groups" on social issues, but, at
the end of 2004, most opposed gay marriage and homosexuality and were more
religious and less strongly opposed to the war in Iraq than other two
groups. Nearly a third of conservative Democratic respondents were also
black, indicating the conflicting pressures which the DP black congressional
caucus is subject to from its own community. Older women are also prominent
among right-wing Democrats. The "social conservatives" in the DP were
estimated to outnumber the other group of "disadvantaged" lower-income
Democrats to their left but trailed the liberals at the base of the party.
* * *
Some US leftists dispute that liberal and disadvantaged Democrats are the
core constituencies which they should be trying to influence. They are
especially hostile to liberal Democrats from their own milieu, and tend
instead to look to independent voters and largely apolitical Americans as
the most promising sources of potential left-wing growth. What does the Pew
survey tell us about these independent and apolitical types, traditionally
favoured by anarchists and increasingly attractive to US Marxists frustrated
by their limited success in the electoral arena and the politics of the DP
leadership? How realistic is it to expect they will become the base of a new
third party which will outflank the Democrats from the left?
Pew identifies the two most politically alienated groups of Americans as the
"disaffecteds" and "bystanders", the main difference between them seeming to
be their degree of political alienation.
96% of the "bystanders" - the youngest (and, except for the liberals, the
least religious) of all groups surveyed - did not participate in the 2004
election. One in five of these were Hispanic, but much may have changed in
this group since the last election and subsequent immigrant rallies. Only
about a quarter of the "disaffected" population abstained from voting. But
Pew reported that survey respondents from this group were still "deeply
cynical about government...alienated from politics (with) little interest in
keeping up with news about politics and government..." They nevertheless
remain "deeply concerned about immigration and environmental policies,
particularly to the extent that they affect jobs." Among "disaffected"
voters, Bush outpolled Kerry 42% to 21%.
What both of these currently apolitical groups share are low levels of
income and education. 70% of the "disaffected" have not attended college
(51% of Americans have) and 24% of the "bystanders" have not completed high
school. Both are found more in rural and suburban areas and in the southern
and western states and tend to be predominantly male.
The groups in which some leftists vest the most hope therefore are the least
skilled segment of the US working class whose members are the most
vulnerable to falling into the "lumpenproletariat". Between them, they
represent an estimated 20% of the adult population. The politically
disaffected anti-immigrant young white males from smaller centres, in
particular, are as apt to become the shock troops of a right-wing movement
as to move to the left of the DP in a social crisis .
The other identifiable group outside of the two party system is what Pew
calls the "upbeats", more familiarly known as "yuppies". They're upbeat
because they have benefited most from recent economic growth. They're
overwhelmingly white (87%), "relatively young", "well educated", typically
married and living in the suburbs, and "among the wealthiest typology
Representing an estimated 11% of the electorate, the newly affluent mostly
identify themselves as "independents". Whileh they have the same class
location as many liberal Democrats, they are to the right of them
politically. They have a "positive outlook on the role of business in
society" and are "moderate" on social issues. They're the kind of people
columnist David Brooks of the New York Times represents and writes about.
While most supported the war in Iraq in 2004, they were reported then as
already having "mixed views on foreign policy", so their stance on the war
has also probably evolved. In 2004, 63% of this group voted for Bush and 14%
The other groups described in the survey are pro-Republican "enterprisers"
(ie. libertarians), "social conservatives", and so-called "pro-government
conservatives", whose distinct identity apart from the other two Republican
groups was not clear to me .
For the typology and 2004 survey, see:
For a more recent Pew survey of US popular opinion in the last year, see: