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Feel like you don't fit in either political party? Here's why

Protesters gather in Grand Park at a "March for Freedom" rally demonstrating against the L.A. City Council's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees and contractors on Monday in Los Angeles. A new study from Pew Research Center breaks down ideology within political parties, including on the role of government.
Mario Tama
Getty Images
Protesters gather in Grand Park at a "March for Freedom" rally demonstrating against the L.A. City Council's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees and contractors on Monday in Los Angeles. A new study from Pew Research Center breaks down ideology within political parties, including on the role of government.

The idea that Americans are polarized makes it seem as if there are only two sides in politics — liberal and conservative, Democratic and Republican.

But Americans are far more complicated politically, anew Pew Research Center typology shows in a study that gives a clearer picture of the full spectrum of American political views.

Americans are divided not just by party but also within them, enough so for Pew to sort Americans ideologically into nine distinct categories (one more than in its last typology four years ago, with some decidedly different contours).

Clear lines emerge when it comes to race, inequality and what the government should do about it. There are also decidedly different views on the role of government overall, economic policy, immigration, religion, the United States' standing in the world and — for Republican-leaning groups — former President Donald Trump.

What's more, despite surveys having found broad support for a third party outside the two major ones, the study shows that there's no magic middle. In fact, the study finds that the three groups with the most self-identified independents "have very little in common politically."

There are also clear implications for control of Congress. While there has been much focus on Democratic divisions between progressive and moderate wings in Congress, the study finds there are more divisions among Republican groups on the issues. But where Republicans have an advantage is having more of a sense of urgency about who is in charge in Washington. The strongest Republican groups more so than the strongest Democratic ones think next year's midterms "really matter."

The typology was created using more than 10,000 survey interviews over an 11-day period this past July. A typical national survey has about 1,000 respondents. This is the eighth typology Pew has created since 1987.

Here's an overview of Pew's nine categories (to see where you fit, you can take Pew's quiz here):

Faith and Flag Conservatives (10% of the public)

Committed Conservatives (7%)

Populist Right (11%)

Ambivalent Right (12%)

Stressed Sideliners (15%)

Outsider Left (10%)

Democratic Mainstays (16%)

Establishment Liberals (13%)

Progressive Left (6%)

Republican-leaning groups

Republican-leaning groups largely believe government is doing too much, that everyone has the ability to succeed, obstacles that once made it harder for women and nonwhites to get ahead are now gone, white people largely don't benefit from societal advantages over Black people, that political correctness is a major problem and military might is key to keeping the U.S. a superpower.

Two-thirds also think the Republican Party should not accept elected officials who have been openly critical of Trump.

They divide, however, on economic, social and foreign policy. On economics, there are splits on whether corporations make a fair amount of profit and if taxes should be raised on the wealthy. They also don't fully agree on which is more important — oil, coal and natural gas expansion or developing alternative energy supplies.

On social issues, they diverge on whether same-sex marriage or abortion should be legal, if government policies should reflect religious beliefs and even whether they feel uncomfortable hearing people speak a language other than English in public places. There are also differences on whether election changes that make it easier to vote would make elections less secure.

On foreign affairs, some think the U.S. should take allies' interests into account; others do not.

Faith and Flag Conservatives

  • 23% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents
  • skew the oldest in age of the Republican-leaning groups
  • deeply conservative on nearly all issues
  • religious and want Christianity front and center in public life
  • very politically engaged; nearly 9 in 10 believe who controls Congress after next year's midterms "really matters" — the highest of any group
  • overwhelmingly white and Christian
  • among Trump's strongest supporters — most believe Trump definitely or probably won the 2020 election
  • roughly 4 in 5 say too much attention has been paid to the Jan. 6 insurrection
  • Committed Conservatives

  • just 15% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents
  • highly educated, loyal Republicans who are very politically active; nearly 8 in 10 believe the results of the 2022 elections "really matter"
  • pro-business
  • want limited government
  • less restrictive on immigration than the other three GOP-leaning groups
  • more "globalist" — in other words, they believe U.S. involvement with the world and with allies should be prioritized
  • less enthusiastic about Trump, but generally big fans of former President Ronald Reagan
  • Populist Right

  • 23% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents
  • among the least likely to have a college degree and among the most likely to live in a rural area
  • hard-liners on immigration, even more so than Faith and Flag Conservatives
  • highly critical of the U.S. economic system; a majority believes the "economic system in the country unfairly favors powerful interests, that businesses in this country make too much profit and that taxes on household income over $400,000 should be raised"
  • strong Trump supporters; 4 in 5 would like him to remain a prominent figure in politics, and almost 6 in 10 want him to run again
  • about 8 in 10 believe the results of the 2022 elections "really matter"
  • Ambivalent Right

  • 18% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents
  • the youngest and among the least religious and politically active of the Republican-leaning groups
  • most don't identify as "conservative" politically, but are conservative economically, on issues of race and in that they prefer smaller government
  • more moderate than other Republicans on immigration, abortion, same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization
  • lean toward the GOP but are not enamored with it; almost two-thirds would like Trump to not remain a national figure, and, in fact, a quarter identifies with Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents
  • the only GOP-oriented group to say President Biden definitely or probably legitimately received the most votes in the 2020 election, and only about 4 in 10 believe the results of the 2022 elections "really matter"
  • Crossovers

    Stressed Sideliners

  • 15% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and 13% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents
  • financially stressed and tend to tilt left economically and conservative socially
  • the group to which Hispanic Republicans are the most likely to belong
  • largely disengaged from politics; only about 4 in 10 voted in 2020, and fewer than half believe the results of the 2022 elections "really matter"
  • Democratic-leaning groups

    While Democratic-leaning groups generally agree on many issues and say that problems exist when it comes to race and economic inequality, there is an intensity gap about how much should be done about those problems and how radical the solutions should be.

    Pew notes that in past typologies, it has found cracks among Democratic groups on social issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana, but those no longer exist. Instead, now the divides are about how liberal the party should be.

    These Democratic-leaning groups believe in a strong federal government, one that should do more to solve problems. They also agree that the economic system unfairly favors the powerful and that taxes on big businesses and corporations should be raised, as should the minimum wage (to $15 an hour).

    They feel more needs to be done to achieve racial equality, that nonwhites face at least some discrimination, that significant obstacles remain for women to get ahead and that voting is a fundamental right and should not be restricted. When it comes to major foreign policy decisions, they agree that allies should be taken into consideration.

    Fissures exist with regard to U.S. military power and, to a lesser extent, social and criminal justice, as well as immigration.

    Progressive Left

  • 12% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents
  • young and highly educated
  • 4 in 5 call themselves "liberal," with 42% saying they are "very liberal"
  • largest Democratic group to say it backed Sen. Bernie Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic primaries (though members of this group broke heavily for Biden in the general election versus Trump)
  • very politically engaged; a little over 8 in 10 believe the results of the 2022 elections "really matter"
  • more than two-thirds white
  • extremely liberal policy positions
  • Establishment Liberals

  • 23% of Democratic groups
  • very politically engaged; 77% say the results of the 2022 elections "really matter"
  • supportive of the Democratic Party and its leaders
  • liberally minded, but prefer more measured approaches
  • when it comes to race, they say they recognize societal ills and that more needs to be done to correct them, but instead of wholesale change, they say it should come from within existing laws and institutions
  • more likely to back compromise and more welcoming to those who agree with Republicans on some things
  • generally upbeat about politics and the country
  • Democratic Mainstays

  • 28% of Democratic-leaning groups, which makes them the largest of the Democratic-leaning groups
  • older, less likely to have a college degree than other Democratic groups
  • most identify as moderate
  • Black Democrats are concentrated in this group, though the group is the most racially and ethnically diverse of all the groups
  • have liberal views on race, economics and the social safety net, but are more conservative on immigration and crime and are pro-military power for the most part
  • 73% say the results of the 2022 elections "really matter"
  • Outsider Left

  • 16% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning groups
  • youngest of the groups that lean Democratic
  • liberal, especially on issues of race, immigration and climate
  • are less politically active than other Democratic groups, are less reliable voters, are more likely to identify as independents; when they do vote, they break overwhelmingly Democratic
  • not thrilled with the Democratic or Republican parties — or the country writ large, for that matter
  • most say other countries are better than the U.S., and almost 9 in 10 don't feel there are candidates who represent their views
  • only about half say the results of the 2022 elections "really matter"
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.