Where Democrats and Republicans agree, disagree on abortion, police, climate and more

After the contentious 2020 election, a new project from the Pew Research Center paints a portrait of a complicated American electorate and reveals the fractures and fissures that exist not just between political parties, but within them. Jocelyn Kiley is the associate director of research at the Pew Research Center and she joins Judy Woodruff to break down the report's findings.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It has been one year since one of the most contentious presidential elections in recent history. And it's no secret that political polarization still runs deep.

    But a new project from the Pew Research Center paints a portrait of the American electorate that is more complicated than just left vs. right. It reveals fractures and fissures existing not only between political parties, but also within them.

    Jocelyn Kiley is the associate director of risk search at Pew. And she joins me now to explain what they found.

    Jocelyn, very good to have you with us.

    Let's talk about this survey. You interviewed over 10,000 people. You have divided Americans roughly into nine distinct groups for this report.

    Let's start with what you're calling sort of the Republican coalition. What does this group have in common?

    Jocelyn Kiley, Associate Director of Research, Pew Research Center: Sure.

    So, four of the nine groups we have found are clearly Republican-oriented, and they identify as Republicans. They backed Donald Trump over Joe Biden in 2020, and they are united in some of their political values, right. Faith and flag conservatives, committed conservatives, populist right, and ambivalent right are the four groups and their names.

    And, first and foremost, they share a preference for smaller government. And they think that government too often does things that are better left to businesses and individuals. They're also generally united in their views of American foreign policy, at least when it comes to American military power.

    And one of the other things that they're united by is that they generally reject the contention that white people in America benefit from advantages in society that black people don't have.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you — so, those are what they have in common. You also, though, saw differences among them. Talk about that.

  • Jocelyn Kiley:


    There are quite a lot of cleavages within the Republican coalition. And one of the most interesting is actually that we identify a group that we call the populist right. They are really quite strong Republicans. They are strong Trump supporters. They're deeply conservative on any number of things.

    But they have a critique of the economic system. They have negative views of businesses and corporations. And in many ways, in that respect, they look a lot more like Democrats than they look like other members of the Republican coalition.

    We also see some divides when it comes to social issues. So, traditionally, social conservative positions, like lacking support for same-sex marriage, or we have seen that, traditionally, Republican groups oppose legalized abortion, we see some divisions within the Republican coalition these questions.

    And then, when it comes to foreign policy, we see a couple of groups where — the Republican groups saying that the U.S. should go it alone in foreign policy, but we see two of the four Republican groups really saying that working with allies is really essential.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, those are the Republican groups.

    Let's talk quickly about the four Democratic groups that you lump together and what they have in common.

  • Jocelyn Kiley:


    Like the Republican groups, they're generally united in their views about government. So there's a general support for saying that government should do more to solve people's problems. That's something that unites Democrats and has historically done so.

    It's also true that, when it comes to some issues, like attitudes about race and gender, we see that the Democratic groups are more likely to say that women continue to face obstacles in society that men don't face. And it carries over into attitudes about race as well, saying that there's a lot more that the country needs to be done — needs to do in order to confront and get to the goal of racial equality.

    They're also generally united on economic issues, at least with respect to saying that the economic system is not fair to all Americans, and they generally support raising taxes on wealthy people and businesses and corporations.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, now, what about where Democrats differ? What are the big areas of disagreement?

  • Jocelyn Kiley:

    Yes, there are a few there as well.

    I think one of the really interesting ones — and we have seen this in the debate around police funding — is that, actually, several of our Democratic groups are more likely to say that police funding should be increased than decreased.

    So, a group we call the Democratic mainstays takes this position, as does a group that we call the establishment liberals. But two other groups, a progressive left group and an outsider left group, are more likely to say that police funding should be decreased than increased. So, that's a key division.

    We also see, even when it comes to attitudes about climate, Democrats are largely united in seeing that climate is an issue. They all identify it as a major problem for the country. They tend to say that the party and the country should prioritize the development of alternative energy sources, but it's really only our progressive left group that says the country really needs to completely rid itself of fossil fuels.

    And that's a distinction that I think is important to understand differences within Democrats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then there's this one group that doesn't fit into either party.

  • Jocelyn Kiley:


    That's a group we call the stressed sideliners. They're about 15 percent of the public. And they're evenly divided in their politics between identifying or leaning towards Republicans and identifying and leaning towards Democrats.

    But what makes them stand out is that they're not particularly engaged in politics. They're the least likely group to have voted in 2020. They'd say they don't follow politics terribly closely. So, you do have this middle, but they're not really an active — a politically active middle. And that's an interesting aspects of our politics today.

    And it's not all that different than in the past.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And would you say there are big messages from this for each one of the political parties?

  • Jocelyn Kiley:

    I think it gives Americans, not just the parties, but Americans, a snapshot into the kind of internal politics that the two parties are dealing with, right.

    The two party coalitions are actually quite big tents, and they have to manage these different constituencies. And, sometimes, they're in conflict. So I think, on the left, for instance, we saw a little bit of this last week over the course of the last couple of weeks in Congress for sure.

    And I think you can see this, that the differences between the progressive left and the Democratic mainstays really are sometimes hard to navigate. And there are dynamics on the right that are similar in that way. So three of the four Republican groups are quite positive about former President Trump, but then the ambivalent right really stand out in that respect.

    And so coalition management is a really important thing for the parties. And I think it's also an important thing for the American public to understand that often we talk about Republicans and Democrats and how polarized we are, which is absolutely the case, but it's also true that there's a lot of — there are a lot of these internal divisions as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's fascinating. There's a lot to dig in here, to see for those of us who love politics and are so curious about it.

    Jocelyn Kiley with the Pew Research Center, thank you.

  • Jocelyn Kiley:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And to find out which group shares your views, you can take the Pew quiz on our Web site. That's at PBS.org/NewsHour.

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