Pew Research Center has released a massive study detailing the American public’s deep-seated political divisions, analyzing not just the ideological disunity between the left and right wings but also the issues dividing the large political center.
Rather than just defining voters as liberal or conservative, the study breaks up voters into groups “based on their attitudes and values.” Liberals, for example, could be “next generation left” or “solid liberals,” while voters on the right are broken down as “steadfast conservatives,” “business conservatives,” or “young outsiders.”
Among the survey’s most striking findings is that about 80 percent of conservatives agree that “poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything.” Meanwhile, over half of conservatives believe that an individual’s poverty is based on “lack of effort on his or her part,” rather than circumstances beyond their control:
The survey found similar divisions over whether government programs help or harm society. More than 80 percent of conservatives in all three groups agreed that “government aid to the poor does more harm than good, by making people too dependent on government assistance,” while a majority of left-leaning respondents said the government does more good because “people can’t get out of poverty until their basic needs are met.”
Pew’s findings likely come as no surprise to those following the ongoing Capitol Hill debate over the merits of the social safety net.
The belief that such assistance breeds overreliance on government is a key component of Republican arguments against programs like food stamps, with lawmakers condemning what they call the “culture of permanent dependency” and holding up individuals like Fox News’ “food stamp surfer” as examples of typical beneficiaries. Conservatives make similar arguments in favor of slashing unemployment benefits — Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argued last year that extending unemployment insurance past 26 weeks would be a “disservice” to jobless workers.