04/11/2006 - In the political caricature of recent years, America is a nation divided: red vs. blue, conservative vs. liberal. "Liberals" tend to favor an active role for government in regulating the economy, but oppose government attempts to regulate morality or private life in the social sphere. "Conservatives" take just the opposite approach, preferring a smaller role for government in the economy but a bigger role for it in promoting morality. Not surprisingly, liberals and conservatives are political opponents on most issues.
But while there is little question that U.S. politics have become more polarized in recent years, the red-blue political shorthand is far from adequate to describe the full spectrum of Americans' political views. Judging by their opinions on a number of issues, many Americans simply do not fit well within either the conservative or the liberal ideological camps, instead falling into one of the two other important U.S. political traditions - libertarian and populist - or defying attempts to pigeon-hole them.
Americans espousing a "libertarian" ideology oppose government regulation in both the economic and the social spheres. "Populists," by contrast, favor an active role for government in both the economic and the social spheres. Still more Americans are distinctively non-ideological in their political outlook, and so don't fit neatly into any of the four ideological camps.
That this is so should not be surprising. Since the founding days of the Republic, Americans have battled over the appropriate balance between government power and individual liberty and both political parties and individuals have pragmatically redefined their positions on that balance as particular issues have come to the forefront of political debate. But given the current prominence - and potential incompleteness - of the liberal-conservative description, we decided to take a closer look at the current state of ideology, ideologues, and American politics.
Read the full analysis In Search of Ideologues in America: It's Harder than You May Think on the Pew Research Center Web site.