Pew thinks I fit in the ‘faith and family left.’ Interesting…

When I saw the headline at The Fix, “Proud to be an American? You’re probably not a true liberal,” I thought, Well, that’s yet another reason why I’m not a liberal.

At least, not as the term is popularly defined. There are a lot of points of alienation between me and today’s “liberals” beyond the fact that Michele Obama set my teeth on edge when she said, “for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country…”

And yet, the study upon which the piece was based, by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, says I fit in a category that has “left” in its name.

Specifically, it thinks I fit in the “Faith and Family Left,” one of eight “political typologies” into which it separates Americans. The category is described thusly:

The Faith and Family Left combine strong support for activist government with conservative attitudes on many social issues. They are very racially diverse – this is the only typology group that is “majority-minority.” The Faith and Family Left generally favor increased government aid for the poor even if it adds to the deficit and believe that government should do more to solve national problems. Most oppose same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana and most say religion and family are at the center of their lives. Compare groups on key issues.

So, Pew thinks I’m a black preacher or something. OK, I’m certainly more comfortable being that that I am as “Solid Liberal” or “Steadfast Conservative.” I’m even pleased with the “Faith and Family” part, but I could do without the “left” part. Because you know how the current “left” and “right” repel me.

Pew’s questionnaire forced me into that box with questions that had no right answer. Take this one, for instance:

bad choices

Like the Kulturkampf battle between faith and science, this is framed as a false and unnecessary choice. I don’t hold either of those positions. I clicked on the second one because I HAD to choose. But as you know, my belief is that we have not given up privacy and freedom in order to be safe from terrorism — which the libertarians believe is false. Since we haven’t been asked to do that, then it obviously isn’t necessary.

But a casual observer would read that response and think that I’m in the Edward Snowden camp, arguing against surveillance programs. Which is 180 degrees from where I am, as you know. I think the NSA programs are fine. I just don’t think they intrude on our privacy or freedom.

What I needed was an option like, “Our current security measures are fine, and don’t infringe our privacy or freedom. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded.” That I could have clicked on happily.

There were a bunch of questions like that. Which causes me to doubt the value of the survey.

And yet, when I had glanced at the categories before I took the survey, my first impression was that if I fit in any of them, it would be the one called “Faith and Family” leaving out the “left” bit.

So maybe there’s something to this method after all.

Maybe you should take it, and see where you end up. Here’s the link.

The 2014 Political Typology: Polarized Wings, a Diverse Middle

68 thoughts on “Pew thinks I fit in the ‘faith and family left.’ Interesting…

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    I’m still bugged by being put in a box. I do NOT, for instance, “favor increased government aid for the poor even if it adds to the deficit.” What I DO believe is that we should pursue policies that grow the economy — which means sometimes being more market-oriented, other times being more activist — so that we don’t have to add to the deficit to have such things as single-payer.

    Growth is the answer. And that is not a position confined to either the left or the right…

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Another false choice: I had to choose between “It IS NOT necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values,” and “It IS necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values.”

    Well, I know for a fact that there are atheists who are good people. But then, overthinking it, I decided the purpose of the question was to determine whether I thought it was better to believe in God than not to. And I do believe it is better, for the individual and for others, to have religious faith. So I clicked on the second answer.

    But when I went back and looked at it again, I think the more honest answer would be the first. But then, I suspect what would happen is that I would be seen as not thinking religious faith was important, and I didn’t want to send that signal…


  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oh, this is ridiculous. I went in an changed a couple of answers that I thought were false choices, to see what would happen. I mean, like two out of 20 questions. And it said I was in the “next generation left,” which is defined in part this way:

    “have very liberal attitudes on many issues, including homosexuality, abortion, the environment and foreign policy”

    Really, folks — does that sound AT ALL like me?

    One of the problems is that if you don’t believe in the radical libertarian position that government is ALWAYS part of the problem, then they stick you in a “left” category.

    Have they never heard of the term, “communitarian”?

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Are you talking about this question?

      Which of the following statements comes closest to your view?

      Government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest.
      Government regulation of business usually does more harm than good.

      I say both are true. The first option is an wide, vague statement. I can’t think of anyone (save an Anarchist) who would say that there is no regulation of business (a/k/a law regarding business) that is necessary. I don’t know if even Ayn Rand would disagree with the first statement. It’s just too broad to not be true in at least some situation.

      But the second statement is different because of the word “usually”. It kind of gives you that wiggle room. It’s not so sweeping. If you changed the questions to this, it would be a better question:

      Government regulation of business is usually necessary to protect the public interest.
      Government regulation of business usually does more harm than good.

      Would that revision change anyone’s answer?

  4. Bryan Caskey

    I got “Business conservative”. I guess “Awesome” wasn’t a category, though. If pressed on my politics by a stranger, I like to use Rick’s line from Casablanca when Major Strosser asks him what his “nationality” is.

    In all seriousness, there are lots of what you’re calling “false choices”. I guess I would call them bad questions, or questions with bad choices for answers. For instance, I answered that you did NOT have to believe in God in order to be moral and good, because you don’t. It probably correlates, but it’s not necessary.

    1. Kathryn Braun Fenner

      Statistically it does not correlate. Numerous studies have shown no correlation between religious belief, or a variety of types, and good behavior/works.

  5. bud

    Surprise, I was a solid liberal. Who knew? But I agree with Brad that some of the available answers really didn’t offer my real view for a given question. However, unlike Brad I do think the test was generally representative of what I believe. Furthermore, I think it nailed Brad. But I can understand his consternation over the “label”. Just leave off the ‘left’ part and it describes Brad to a tee.

  6. Bryan Caskey

    This one seemed weird to me:

    Society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority.
    Society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children.

    A priority, as compared to what? Watching TV and eating doughnuts all day? Having a career? Being a reclusive novelist? Doing drugs? I think everyone would probably agree that marriage and children are good things, but they certainly aren’t the only path available.

    1. Brad Warthen

      I took it as meaning putting your family first. Like, say, putting a buck in the kids’ college fund rather than spending it on beer, just to oversimplify….

  7. bud

    This is the one I struggled with:

    Most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard

    Hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people

    This really isn’t an either/or situation. Most people CAN make it, to a certain extent, if they’re willing to work hard but it’s not a guarantee. Luck plays a large roll. Hard work and determination do improve anyones chance for success but there are so many other factors (genetics, health issues, a good teacher, family experience). So my answer would be something to the effect that “Hard work and determination improve, but do not ensure, success”.

    Besides, what is success? I say a man of relatively modest means with lots of friends and a loving family is far more successful than a rich man with many enemies and a disfunctional family.

      1. bud

        I actually changed that one three times but settled on the “Hard work is no guarantee option”.

      2. Brad Warthen

        So did I, but I didn’t like it. I believe hard work is important, and often pays off. But it’s no GUARANTEE of success, so I had to go with the leftie answer…

        1. Doug Ross

          Hard work doesn’t guarantee success but the question doesn’t say that. It says: “Most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard”.

          MOST is not a guarantee. Just as laziness doesn’t ALWAYS result in failure (lottery winners, inheritance, people with co-dependent relationships or excessively supportive parents, gigolos, and gold diggers)…

          Hard work will almost certainly guarantee a BETTER outcome but possibly not success. I’ll take my chances with hard work over dependence on someone else.

  8. Phillip

    Surprise again, Solid Liberal. I would generally agree about the absurdity of the questions, except for the fact that ALL of them posit these extreme choices. Since one is forced to choose the extreme somewhat closer (if barely) to one’s views, it has a certain consistency to the methodology.

    But I do agree about the silliness in that headline about being proud to be American being incompatible with liberalism.

  9. Mark Stewart

    Next Generation Left. Which is funny, because the line they drew placed me exactly in the middle.

  10. Andrew G

    I wish there was a viable Christian Democracy party or voting bloc in this country, like in much of northern Europe (like Merkel’s party), but there isn’t.

    Telling folks my age that I’m socially conservative but not an economic libertarian is very confusing for people.

    Ultimately, I think it was a great failing of the post 70’s Religious Right, in that it got co – opted by individualistic economic interests. It still baffles me to no end to hear of someone proclaim how their Christian faith matters, then talks about how much someone like Ayn Rand matters to them ( like Rep. Paul Ryan). I don’t get it. The incongruity of it all.

  11. Dave Crockett

    I intentionally bounced back and forth on my answers that seemed to be largely duplicating the same political bent. By doing so, I was pegged as a Solid Liberal. My wife would beg to differ. Maybe the the liberal side of centrist but hardly as liberal as she would classify herself. I’d have her take the test but she might break the scoring mechanism to create a Flaming Freakin’ Liberal category just for her.

    An interesting diversion….

  12. Bryan Caskey

    Lotsa liberals here in the commentariat. Good thing Doug and I are here to keep everyone on their toes. I was hoping for a cooler category name for me, though. Maybe I’ll put some thought into that. I’m open to suggestions.

      1. Doug Ross

        I think it nailed you pretty well, Brad. You’re more fiscally liberal when it comes to taxation and government programs and more socially conservative when it comes to “community standards” that should be enforced by the government.

        Mario Cuomo, I believe, called himself a “Progressive Pragmatist”. That may be a little closer to your label but I think your views on abortion, gay marriage, blue laws, etc. keep you a few clicks to the right of that.

        As for Bryan, how about “Armed and Generous” ?

        Instead of “Young Outsider” I was hoping for “Randy Randian”.

  13. scout

    I got Solid Liberal, but I really feel closer to moderate with left leanings. I also thought the extremes presented made unnecessary and inappropriate assumptions. I frequently didn’t agree with either characterization.

  14. Burl Burlingame

    Sorry Brad, but the mere fact that you can sense fuzzy gray instead of polar either-or answers makes you a liberal.

    But the only thing that fits in a pigeonhole is a pigeon.

  15. Herb

    I got ‘solid liberal’, but please don’t tell anyone at church. Sometimes I answer as a ‘leftie’ just out of protest to what looks like to me a lockstep of my fellow evangelicals with the ‘Right’. I’m pretty sure I’d end up as a really boring ‘moderate’ if I had been given the right choices.

  16. bud

    This has nothing to do with the Pew survey but it’s so important I want to make sure someone mentions it. Today (June 28) marks the 100th anniversary of the event that sparked WW I. Many people love to use WW II analogies to defend this or that military incursion. I would suggest WW I has far more relevance to the current events of today than does WW II. The world leaders of that time thought they could impose their country’s belief system onto others through force. Sadly that mindset has led to many misguided attempts to create something that just was not doable. Iraq is the obvious example but many more failed nations could be cited. If we’re going to learn useful lessons from history to apply to the world of 2014 let’s start by looking at the events that followed June 28, 1914 and try to stay away from WW II analogies that just aren’t relevant.

  17. Brad Warthen

    If today is more like 1914, we’re in trouble, since we’re still trying to figure out how that war happened. At least we understand the causes of the second war…

    1. Brad Warthen

      It’s very difficult to draw any kind of lessons today from 1914. It was SUCH a different world. So was 1939. So was 1989. But 1914 was RADICALLY different…

  18. bud

    I’m trying to make a fairly nuanced point here that can easily be misinterpreted. Brad completely missed what I’m trying to say so let me try again. Of course 1914 is different from 2014. We don’t have 5 huge empires vying for control of the world. But we do have one huge empire trying to impose its way of life on the lives of people who just don’t see it our way. At least that’s the neo-con worldview. Like my liberal brethren I find that way of thinking abhorent. Where the lessons of WW I come in is with the naked arrogance of the world leaders of the time. The Czars, Kings and Kaisers of the day seem so very much like the Dick Cheneys, John McCains and Lindsey Grahams of the 21st century. And this should scare us all. For if we don’t recognize how very wrong the world leaders of 1914 were and why they were wrong then we risk breeding a new generation of imperialists that will attempt to foist American values on places like Vietnam, Iraq and Iran where it is simply not feasible short of long-term and deadly military occupations.

    Part of our problem today is the media. They continue to trot out all the same ole neo-cons who were so wrong in 2003 as though they actually have something relevant to offer. It would be sort of like asking Kaiser Wilhelm what we should do to succeed in conquering France the next time around. Would that serve any useful purpose? I think not. So the next time Dick Cheney has anything to say about Iraq lets just turn the channel and watch world cup soccer. It would be much more informative.

    1. Brad Warthen

      Neo cons aren’t about trying to impose anything on anyone. They ARE about taking out tyrants who stand in the way of their people’s aspirations.

      Some neocons are overly optimistic, and think removing the tyrant is enough — that something like liberal democracy will arise spontaneously from a vacuum. Others, such as Lindsey Graham, see that it’s a lot harder than that.

      Then there are the communitarians like Tony Blair, who see their neighbors’ problems as their own, and don’t see national boundaries as an excuse not to act if you can…

  19. Karen Pearson

    It placed me as a solid liberal. But, like everyone else, I found the most questions either offered false choices, or simply did not address the real problems. Of course Americans (or anyone else) has to decide where they choose to be on the spectrum from absolute freedom to absolute safety. I believe one of our founding patriots noted that precise dilemma. Have we made racial equality the law? Yes. Have we done enough to sufficiently remove the effects of centuries of racism? We have a long way to go (eg. ‘the corridor of shame,’ difficulties in overcoming parental ignorance, cultural mores that demand racial solidarity over opportunities to escape poverty). Of course hard work improves your chances of succeeding. But what if you spend your life working hard at digging ditches? Need a belief in God to make good moral choices? What if you’ve made money your God? Spread freedom and democracy throughout the world? If the people you are trying to “free” don’t believe in freedom, or only believe in freedom for their own tribe/religion/cultural status then you cannot free them. Furthermore, if we insist that real freedom can only be found in imitating us, we guarantee ourselves failure. Business is good, but it can, and in many cases has turned into a monster. About the only ones I could even start to agree with unequivocally were the ones concerning environment, and even there, I felt that the dichotomy of the choices was overstated.

    1. Doug Ross

      Karen .. if all a person does is dig ditches, then they really aren’t working hard to improve themselves. A ditch digger can become the supervisor… then the job foreman.. that progression doesn’t happen through luck.

        1. Doug Ross

          Then apparently they are only suited to live off the kindness of strangers or the fixed redistribution of wealth. No schooling required.

          1. Kathryn Braun Fenner

            Um, no. They perform useful tasks. Maybe not ditch digger, if that is even a thing any more, but how about home health care aide, hospital orderly, landscaper….and I would like them to be as educated as they can. An educated populace is a good thing.

            1. Doug Ross

              Every job has a pathway to a higher level… if your job can be done by someone with no education and you do the same thing for 40 years, that’s on you.

              If you want to be an indentured servant, that’s a choice.

            2. Doug Ross

              As for landscapers, many do very well after starting at the bottom. A 20 year old friend of my son stayed cutting lawns in high school. Two years later, he’s got other people working for him acme I paid him a nice chunk of money to put out pine straw and mulch. What’s the difference between him and the older guys laying out the mulch? Initiative and hard work.

            3. Brad Warthen

              And possibly native intelligence, for which no one can take credit. Talk about luck; that’s about as lucky as you get.

              Any of y’all ever work digging ditches? I have. Back in the summer of ’73, in the July heat in West Tennessee…

      1. Karen Pearson

        You have to have had enough education to be functionally literate, which in some places and some homes is almost impossible since you won’t even realize what you need to learn, much less how to obtain that education. BTW, the question did not mention doing effective hard work; it just said “hard work.” If ditch digging is all you know, then you are unlikely to go anywhere. You might get a pat on the back, and maybe a $.10 an hour raise, but you are very unlikely to get any farther, and you will not know how to proceed.

        1. Doug Ross

          If someone is incapable of understanding that there might be something besides ditch digging that could yield better pay, they likely are incapable of doing anything else. No amount of government assistance will lift him up any higher.

          1. Karen Pearson

            They can figure out that there’s something better than ditch digging. They just can’t figure out a legal way of getting there. (They can figure out stealing and drug dealing, having grown up surrounded by such). That’s why early childhood intervention brings the most bangs for the buck. It provides children with the opportunity to learn the skills they need, and incidentally reduces street crime in the long run, It doesn’t do a thing about the millions stolen by white collar criminals.

  20. Kathleen

    This survey is as insulting as the political telephone opinion polls. It almost reaches the “Have you stopped beating your wife?” level. It is depressing to realize how many people actually seem to think in such simple minded and un-nuanced patterns.

  21. Norm Ivey

    I’m a little late to the party, but it pegged me as Next Generation Left, which is probably pretty accurate except that 53 is hardly Next Gen.

    I did the quiz a second time and skipped the questions I thought created false choices. I got the same category result, but my marker was farther left on the national profile graph.

  22. Bryan Caskey

    10% of the nation’s population is further “right” than me. Probably because I answered that I was OK with SSM.

    I would prefer to be called a “classical liberal”, but I’ll answer to most anything.

  23. Phillip

    What is interesting is to look at a specific question and see how their 8 groups divided on it. I was struck by the energy question, about focusing on alternative energy versus expanding our exploration for oil, coal, natural gas. 6 out of 8 categories either strongly or overwhelmingly strongly endorsed the alternative energy option, while only Solid Conservative and Business Conservative went the other way, and fairly solidly, too.

  24. Brad Warthen Post author

    Here’s E.J. Dionne’s take on the survey and its results, headlined “The vital, incoherent center.”

    Basically, he says the center is too fragmented to offer a viable Third Way for those of us who are disaffected from the left and right.

    That may be true, although we’re in the “center” precisely because we reject prefab sets of values, which is what the parties offer. We are not attracted to across-the-board ideological unity of any kind.

    Hence the UnParty, which as you know only has one fundamental, nonnegotiable tenet: “unwavering opposition to fundamental, nonnegotiable tenets.”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I wrote the following note to E.J. about his column:

      I enjoyed your column about the “incoherent center,” of which I am a part.

      Actually, the survey put me in the “Faith and Family Left.” But when I review the questions, I see that I am in the minority on 8 out of the 20 questions, even among my own political type.

      I agree with you that there’s little hope for a viable Third Way from a fragmented center — but only if we continue to believe that parties have to agree internally with each other about everything.

      I’ve always been puzzled that Democrats and Republicans seem comfortable with buying entire SETS of values off the shelf. To me, the idea that, say, Democrats agree with each other on issue A dictates they will agree on issue B makes no sense at all. Not if the individual voter thinks about each issue.

      For the center to lead, we have to divorce ourselves from the notion that in order to support someone politically, we have to agree with him or her on everything. Of course, if we accomplish THAT, we’ve broken the death grip of the hyperpartisans whether a coherent center party emerges or not.

      Unfortunately, since our media — including our brightest writers of opinion — hardly ever speak of politics outside the left-right dichotomy, it’s hard for voters even to conceive of anything outside that binary paradigm. Like speakers of Newspeak in 1984, we lack the vocabulary to express political thoughts outside the two rigid sides — or at least, to express them in ways that are coherent to others and can appeal to them.

      It’s an uphill climb. I know, because I’ve been trying to ascend that hill for years…

  25. Brad Warthen Post author

    Now that my Faith and Family Left bona fides have been established, I can’t wait for Kathryn to accuse me yet again of “privilege blindness.” Seeing as how my group is WAY more diverse than hers.

    When she says it again, I’ll just say, “It’s a Faith and Family Left thing. You wouldn’t understand…”

  26. Mark Stewart

    At least with the Myers-Briggs personality “types” these made some sense to share and discuss. I think we have all – in different ways – agreed that this Pew survey is bogus on the surface and at the core.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I dunno. I didn’t like the choices Pew forced me to make. But I can’t help acknowledging that of the eight categories they describe, the test put me into the one that I think closest to describing me.

      I just wish they’d left out the “left” part. Frankly, I think I’m in a subgroup to which that word does not apply. As I mentioned, I disagreed with this group on 8 out of 20 questions. And on six of those eight, my answer was the more “conservative” one….

      1. Mark Stewart

        Exactly. You like the basic premise of the tagline, but only agree with 60% of the positions that they say define this group.

        I liked the one they gave me, because it was neither left nor right – dead middle ground. But then, like Norm, I can’t agree with anything labeling me as “Next Generation Left” because of it.

        I am sure that there are far better political surveys out there than this flawed scale which forces a simple choice between extreme viewpoints.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          But it occurs to me that the very hamhandedness of these questions — holding the proverbial gun to one’s head and making you make the false choice — may be more subtle than it appears.

          It LOOKs like they’re hitting you over the head with extremes, as though they are too stupid to understand that the truth is more nuanced — but the cumulative result is to put you in a category that you agree fits you.

          To digress — one of the things that struck me is that I don’t want to confess to anyone how I answered some of these questions. I’m deeply embarrassed by my answers, and I’m sure that some people (people whose good opinion I value) would think I’m a terrible person because I answered the way I did. (People would say, Yes, it was a difficult question with no good answer, but how could you have answered THAT way?)

          Of course, I’d be just as deeply embarrassed over having answered the opposite way on some of them.

          Could it be that, by forcing us into such an uncomfortable place and making us choose, the test is getting at some home truths that we would normally succeed in hiding?

  27. Kathryn Fenner

    I guess as someone who’s passed three bar exams, this isn’t tough at all. They used to telly ou all the time that you were choosing the best of four wrong answers.

    You learn to choose the better answer. Not the perfect answer, just the better one. Say you believe “purple” and the question is blue vs. orange. The answer you’d choose is blue. You believe drunk drivers who kill someone should be charged with manslaughter, and the choices are murder or assault and battery: Murder, unless you are on the lenient side of manslaughter, maybe.

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