The 6 Kinds of Republican Voters

by Pelican Press
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The Traditional Conservatives

26% of Republicans

The Right Wing

26% of Republicans

The Libertarian Conservatives

14% of Republicans

The Moderate Establishment

14% of Republicans

The Blue Collar Populists

12% of Republicans

The Newcomers

8% of Republicans

Aug. 17, 2023

After eight years of Republican fealty to Donald J. Trump, few would argue that the party is still defined by Ronald Reagan’s famous three-legged stool of the religious right, fiscal conservatives and neoconservative hawks.

But if the Republican Party is no longer in Reagan’s image, it’s not necessarily a populist-conservative MAGA monolith, either.

The last New York Times/Siena College poll found that only 37 percent of Republicans count as part of Mr. Trump’s loyal base.

And while majorities of Republicans side with Mr. Trump on almost every issue, those majorities are often quite slim: Around 40 percent of Republican-leaning voters support aid to Ukraine, support comprehensive immigration reform or say abortion should be mostly or always legal.

But if the Republican Party isn’t quite a MAGA monolith, what is it? To better understand the party today, we split Republican and Republican-leaning voters into groups, based on the results of our Times/Siena poll. The groups were defined by how Republican-leaning voters felt on the issues — not how they felt about Mr. Trump.

The results depict a Republican coalition that consists of six groups:

The Moderate Establishment (14%). Highly educated, affluent, socially moderate or even liberal and often outright Never Trump.

The Traditional Conservatives (26%). Old-fashioned economic and social conservatives who oppose abortion and prefer corporate tax cuts to new tariffs. They don’t love Mr. Trump, but they do support him.

The Right Wing (26%). They watch Fox News and Newsmax. They’re “very conservative.” They’re disproportionately evangelical. They believe America is on the brink of catastrophe. And they love Mr. Trump more than any other group.

The Blue Collar Populists (12%). They’re mostly Northern, socially moderate, economic populists who hold deeply conservative views on race and immigration. Not only do they back Mr. Trump, but he himself probably counted as one a decade ago.

The Libertarian Conservatives (14%). These disproportionately Western and Midwestern conservatives value freedom and small government. They’re relatively socially moderate and isolationist. Other than the establishment, it’s Mr. Trump’s worst group.

The Newcomers (8%). They don’t look like Republicans. They’re young, diverse and moderate. But these disaffected voters like Democrats and the “woke” left even less.

Mr. Trump’s dominance of the Republican Party is founded on an alliance between the Right Wing and Blue Collar Populists, two groups that combine to represent nearly 40 percent of Republicans — and about two-thirds of Mr. Trump’s MAGA base of seemingly unshakable support.

The Blue Collar Populists and the Right Wing don’t always agree. In particular, they split on the issues of the religious right, like same-sex marriage and abortion. But these two groups are big Trump supporters. They mostly agree with him on his defining issues and they share his deeply pessimistic, even cataclysmic view of the direction of the country, including fear of the declining white share of the population.

The alliance between Blue Collar Populists and the Right Wing has left Mr. Trump’s potential opposition in disarray. Before Trump, the party’s mainstream prevailed against Right Wing candidates by uniting Traditional Conservatives and the moderate factions — both Establishment and Blue Collar. That blueprint for victory appears to be closed, at least for now.

Without a natural factional base, Ron DeSantis has struggled to maintain a steady foothold in the race. In fact, Mr. Trump leads Mr. DeSantis among every group of Republican voters identified in the analysis. The rest of the party, beyond Mr. Trump’s base, may not always back Trump policies, but it’s not necessarily anti-Trump. And the closest thing to an anti-Trump group in the party — the Moderate Establishment — has become alienated from the rest of the party.

Here’s a deeper look at the groups that will make up the Republican Party of 2024:

The Moderate Establishment

14 percent of Republicans

Examples: Susan Collins, Charlie Baker, Chris Sununu.

Trump 28 percent, DeSantis 12 percent

It’s socially moderate. It’s highly educated and affluent. It still embraces Reagan-Bush views on immigration, trade and foreign policy. And it does not like Mr. Trump.

The Never Trumpers make their home in this group. In a hypothetical general election matchup, the Moderate Establishment backs Mr. Trump over President Biden by a mere 46 percent to 27 percent.

In theory, the Moderate Establishment might seem to represent the natural foundation for any opposition to Mr. Trump. If we had done this exercise eight years ago, many of these voters probably would have backed the likes of John Kasich and Marco Rubio.

Share who support providing additional aid to Ukraine

But this group is so much more moderate and anti-Trump than the rest of the party that it’s hard to earn this group’s support without alienating the rest of the party. And on the flip side, it’s hard to appeal to the rest of the party without alienating the Moderate Establishment. It’s a problem Mr. DeSantis seems to know all too well: He wins only 12 percent of its votes, our polling shows.

The Traditional Conservatives

26 percent of Republicans

Examples: Rick Perry, Tim Scott and Mr. Rubio.

Trump 55, DeSantis 20

Of all the groups, this is the one that most closely resembles the pre-Trump Republican Party.

It is the only group that both opposes abortion and prefers pro-business tax cuts over Mr. Trump’s tariffs. In each case, it does so by a wide margin. It favors immigration reform and aid to Ukraine. It retains some of Reagan’s sunny optimism as well. Only 32 percent said that the nation’s problems were so bad that the nation was in danger of failure, compared with more than two-thirds of the rest of the party.

Share who favor cutting taxes on corporations over raising tariffs on imports

Not surprisingly, this isn’t Mr. Trump’s strongest group. Only 39 percent have a very favorable opinion of him. In earlier primaries, this group would have backed the likes of John McCain and Mitt Romney, who each fought Mr. Trump while he was president.

But this is not an anti-Trump group. For every McCain, Romney or Liz Cheney, there are 10 once-mainstream conservative politicians who have stuck by Mr. Trump. Overall, Mr. Trump holds more than 50 percent of support in the primary among this group. He did cut corporate taxes and select the judges who overturned Roe v. Wade, after all.

The Right Wing

26 percent of Republicans

Examples: Ted Cruz, the Freedom Caucus and Newt Gingrich

Trump 71, DeSantis 10

This group of Fox News, Newsmax and talk radio fans needs no introduction. It is relatively old and working class. It’s convinced that the nation is on the brink of catastrophe. And it’s deeply loyal to Mr. Trump.

Three-quarters of this group identify as “very conservative”; no more than a quarter of another group does so. Not surprisingly, it’s likeliest to say compromise is just “selling out.” Virtually none believe Mr. Trump — who was recently indicted for the fourth time — has committed serious federal crimes.

Share who identify as very conservative

If it feels as if this group dominates the Republican Party beyond its numbers, that’s because it does. This is the most highly engaged group of Republicans, routinely making it a kingmaker in Republican primaries. Overall, the Right Wing represents over a third of the Republican primary electorate, even though it’s about a quarter of Republican-leaning registered voters.

There aren’t many fissures within this group of MAGA hat owners and Trump flag fliers, at least not on the questions we asked in this survey. In the scheme of the Republican Party today, their differences don’t loom especially large.

But in the past, the Right Wing has been quite divided. It most likely split between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz eight years ago. Earlier this year, many in this group probably entertained supporting Mr. DeSantis as well.

Whatever their reservations were about Mr. Trump in the past, they seem to have largely coalesced behind him today. That’s bad news for Mr. DeSantis, who might count himself as a member of this group.

The Blue Collar Populists

12 percent of Republicans

Examples: Rudy Giuliani, Paul LePage, Lou Barletta, Michael Grimm

Trump 71, DeSantis 12

Over the last half century, some of them have been called the “backlash” vote, “white ethnics,” “Middle American Radicals,” Reagan Democrats and Obama-Trump voters. Today, they’re an important part of the Trump base.

Whites without a degree make up nearly three-quarters of this predominantly Northern group. But the Blue Collar Populists are surprisingly moderate on many of the issues that define the religious right. A clear majority of them say abortion should be legal, and they support same-sex marriage. Just 18 percent identify as “very conservative.”

Share who think abortion should be always or mostly legal

But this group has conservative-populist views on trade and economics and, perhaps most important, on race. No group was likelier to oppose immigration reform. A full 35 percent of this group’s members were willing to explicitly say the declining white share of the population was bad for America, compared with 13 percent of the rest of the party.

Share who oppose comprehensive immigration reform

This group may hold moderate views on religious-tinged social issues, but not because it is liberal. No group valued “freedom” less when put in conflict with other values. Of all the groups, they were by far the likeliest to prefer protecting traditional values over individual freedom, even though many social conservatives might question whether a group that supports abortion rights and same-sex marriage really holds traditional values in the first place.

The Blue Collar Populists back Mr. Trump by a wide margin — nearly as wide as the Right Wing does. Indeed, Mr. Trump himself might have belonged to this group a decade ago, before he embraced the views of social conservatives to win the nomination.

Like Mr. Trump, one in five members of this group hails from the tristate area around New York City.

At first, this group doesn’t clearly stand out from the rest of the party. It’s near the middle of the pack on almost every set of issues.

But our algorithm nonetheless plucked out these voters and set them apart for one reason: On questions pitting freedom against other values, these conservatives always chose freedom.

Share who favor the protection of individual freedom over traditional values

Nine percent said they would vote for some other candidate in a hypothetical general election matchup between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden. An even larger 13 percent of this group identified as “some other party,” compared with 3 percent of other Republicans. We didn’t ask them which party that was, but I’ll guess it’s the libertarians.

And after a second look at their answers, the subtle tug of their commitment to freedom and small government becomes easier to see: While they may be near the middle of the pack, they’re relatively moderate on social issues, relatively likely to oppose economic populism, and isolationist.

Other than the establishment, this group is Mr. Trump’s worst. But surprisingly, it’s not a great group for Mr. DeSantis either — a telling indication of the troubles facing a candidate who once built his national reputation on freedom from coronavirus restrictions.

The Newcomers

8 percent of Republicans

Examples: Vivek Ramaswamy, or perhaps a politician still to come

Trump 56, DeSantis 11

This is the youngest and most diverse group of Republicans. Just 59 percent are white, and 18 percent are Hispanic. More than a quarter are 18 to 29.

Nearly three-quarters identify as moderates or liberals. They overwhelmingly support immigration reform and say society should accept the identity of transgender people.

With these characteristics, it can be hard to see why these voters are Republican-leaners at all. But unlike the similarly moderate establishment, this is an unequivocally Republican group. They back Mr. Trump against President Biden and they’re deeply unhappy with the state of the country: Nearly 90 percent said the economy was poor, placing them just behind the Right Wing in their economic pessimism. A similar number said the country was heading in the wrong direction.

Share who want a candidate who would fight corporations that promote woke left ideology

So while they may not be conservatives in any traditional sense, they’re certainly not happy with Democrats. They were the likeliest group to say they would rather back a candidate who focused on fighting the radical “woke” left than one focused on protecting law and order. By a two-to-one margin, they said they would rather vote for a candidate who promised to stop “woke” business, rather than a candidate who said businesses should have the freedom to decide what to support.

They’re the smallest group of Republicans today, but this group of relatively moderate but anti-woke voters might play an important role in the Republican Party in the years ahead.

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