Ideology gap among Americans revealed in new study

Ideology gap among Americans revealed in new study

When considering national averages related to social indicators it is easy to lose sight of just how deeply divided the nation is on some beliefs and behaviors. A new nationwide survey among adults 18 and older by the American Culture and Faith Institute provides greater perspective on some of the differences and similarities that characterize Americans today.

Moderates Dominate America

The survey asked respondents to place themselves on an ideological continuum related to both fiscal issues and social issues. The outcome showed that almost six out of ten adults (58%) fall into the politically moderate category. Of the remaining four out of ten adults, a slightly larger proportion was conservative (25%) than liberal (17%). Interestingly, the data revealed that Americans are currently more conservative on fiscal matters (40%) than on social issues (34%). In fact, adults are nearly twice as likely to claim to be liberal on social matters (36%) as in relation to fiscal issues (22%).

SAGE Cons, the Spiritually Active, Governance Engaged Christian Conservatives regularly tracked by ACFI, emerged as 6% of the population. By definition they are social and fiscal conservatives.

The Big Picture

Survey respondents were asked how they see themselves, reacting to 11 descriptions.

A majority of adults adopted just three of those 11 descriptions for themselves. Those were:

  • Four out of five say they support traditional values (81%)
  • Three out of four believe that all people are basically good (74%)
  • Two-thirds believe that having faith matters more than what faith a person has (66%).

Nearly half of American adults embraced three of the statements. Those were:

  • Am a pro-life advocate (49%)
  • Support same-sex marriage (48%)
  • Have a biblical worldview (46%).

Less than four out of ten adults claimed each of the remaining five descriptions as an accurate self-depiction.

  • Prefer socialism to capitalism (37%)
  • Am a born again Christian (35%)
  • Am an evangelical Christian (32%)
  • Own a gun (28%)
  • Am gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender (8%)

Comparing Across Ideologies

There were substantial differences between people regarding these descriptions based upon how they classified their ideology on fiscal issues and on social issues. In fact, there were only two statements in which conservatives, moderates, and liberals had similar profiles: believing that people are basically good, and believing that having faith is more important than what faith a person has. SAGE Cons differed radically from the national norm on both of those indicators, with few of them accepting the beliefs as described.

Conservative Profile

Of the remaining nine statements, a majority of conservatives accepted four of them and one-half of them adopted a fifth description. Those were:

  • 94% said they support traditional moral values
  • 74% said they are pro-life advocates
  • 67% claimed to have a biblical worldview
  • 53% called themselves an evangelical Christian
  • 49% said they are a born again Christian

That means that a minority of the self-identified conservatives said they were a gun owner (36%), prefer socialism to capitalism (23%), support same-sex marriage (19%), or claimed to be gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender (2%).

Liberal Profile

Of those remaining nine statements, a majority of liberals embraced three of them:

  • 78% said they support same-sex marriage
  • 68% claimed to support traditional moral values
  • 54% noted that they prefer socialism to capitalism

Less than one-third of the self-identified liberals accepted each of the other half-dozen statements. Those included claiming to have a biblical worldview (32%); being a pro-life advocate (30%); claiming to be a born again Christian (26%) or evangelical Christian (21%); owning a gun (20%); and identifying as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender (17%).

Profiling the Moderates

The largest of the ideological segments is perhaps that which receives the least attention and is least understood by the public and media commentators. Even though peoples’ placement in one of the three ideological groupings was based on self-identification, moderates did place somewhere between conservatives and liberals on the ideological continuum for all nine of the statements for which the three groups held distinct views. However, the views of moderates were generally closer to those of the liberals.

Of the nine statements on which there were substantial distinctions across the three groups, a majority of moderates embraced only two of those: 80% said they supported traditional values and 51% supported same-sex marriage.

That left a minority who described themselves as pro-life advocates (44%); having a biblical worldview (41%); preferring socialism to capitalism (37%); claiming to be either a born again (31%) or evangelical (26%) Christian; owning a gun (26%); or being gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender (8%).

SAGE Cons Profiled

The SAGE Con population was radically different from the other three groups – even substantially divergent from the nation’s conservative adults. Overall, SAGE Cons proved to be much more conservative on nine of the 11 characterizations tested in the survey, and similar to other conservatives on two items.

SAGE Cons were most noticeably divergent from other conservatives as follows:

  • Much less likely to believe that having faith matters more than which faith a person adopts (13% of SAGE Cons, 67% of all conservatives)
  • Much less likely to believe that all people are basically good (27% of SAGE Cons, 76% of all conservatives)
  • Much less likely to prefer socialism to capitalism (1% of SAGE Cons, 23% of all conservatives)
  • Much less likely to support same-sex marriage (1% of SAGE Cons, 19% of all conservatives)
  • Much more likely to describe themselves as either a born again Christian (93% versus 49%) or evangelical Christian (94% versus 53%)
  • Much more likely to claim to have a biblical worldview (96% compared to 67%)
  • Much more likely to own a gun (63% versus 36%)
  • Much more likely to be a pro-life advocate (98% compared to 74%).

The two descriptions for which both groups were similar were identifying as LGBT (less than one-half of one percent of SAGE Cons did so) and supporting traditional moral values (97%).

No Wonder America is Divided

There is no simple, easy or quick fix that will bridge the political gap currently characterizing America, according to researcher George Barna. “It is one thing to negotiate a minor compromise to overcome a small difference in perspective regarding a piece of legislation,” explained Barna. “Unfortunately, the survey shows that we have more than a minor gap dividing the various factions in our country. We have a canyon of epic proportions that seems to be widening each year.

“That gap has emerged due to an absence of strong, visionary leadership,” the long-time researcher continued, “and the gap is only going to be eliminated by the presence of strong, visionary leadership. That leadership does not have to come from the White House; in fact, it may be more compelling if it comes from local and state leaders. But the inescapable reality is that unless strong leaders consistently promote a common vision and introduce ways of incorporating that vision into every activity and measurement being undertaken, the hyper-partisanship that has fragmented our national unity and discourse will continue to expand.”

Barna also noted that SAGE Cons are ideologically much more cohesive than are the larger group of conservatives in the US. “Perhaps because of their spiritual foundation the surveys consistently indicate that SAGE Cons have a more unified point of view than do other ideological segments. Overall, more than 90% of SAGE Cons agreed on eight of the 11 measures examined. That compares to similar levels of agreement for just one out of the 11 statements among other conservatives, and none of the 11 statements among liberals and moderates.”

The most alarming result, according to Barna, was that four out of every ten adults say they prefer socialism to capitalism. “That is a large minority – and it includes a majority of the liberals – who will be pushing for a completely different economic model to dominate our nation. That is the stuff of civil wars. It ought to set off alarm bells among more traditionally-oriented leaders across the nation.”

The most perplexing result, in Barna’s eyes, was that two-thirds of liberals said they support traditional moral values. “This is a group among whom three-fourths support same-sex marriage, seven out of ten advocate legalized abortion, a majority want socialism to replace capitalism, three out of four claim that all people are basically good, and nearly one out of five claim to be LGBT. It’s hard to imagine which ‘traditional moral values’ they are referring to. This oddity does, however, reflect how the ideological Left consistently appropriates language and imputes new meaning to terms that are known and popular. The survey data raise the possibility that liberals may redefine ‘traditional moral values’ to include beliefs and behaviors that are not at all traditional – or moral, from a biblical perspective.

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