If you read last week’s 185-page Pew survey on political typology, which divides the public into seven groups, you’ll quickly realize that the two most conservative groups—“steadfast conservatives” and “business conservatives”—agree on nearly everything. They prefer expanding oil, coal, and natural gas to focusing on alternative energy. They don’t think government has an obligation to make sure people get health care. And so on. Not surprisingly, their partisan loyalties are more or less identical. According to the survey, both groups favor Republicans over democrats by a margin of 82 points.
But there’s a reason Pew sorted them into two different categories. They are not the same people. Business conservatives tend to be better educated, more affluent, and a little younger than steadfast conservatives. That produces some sharply different views, particularly on matters related to economic policy. It is indicative of a deep split within the Republican Party that, at the moment, appears larger and more serious than the analogous divide among Democrats.
Consider these four issues:
1. Social Security. In 2012, Matt Yglesias, then at Slate, argued that elites in the United States—business leaders, policymakers, entrepreneurs, etc.—hate Social Security not only because it distorts the economy through payroll taxes, but also because it pays old people not to work. Pew adds numerical support for Yglesias’ theory. Of the eight political typologies Pew identifies, only business conservatives want to consider cutting Social Security benefits. In fact, they are the only ones who support considering cuts to Social Security, by a slight 49-46 margin.
2. Wall Street. Pew also asked the 10,013 respondents whether they believe Wall Street helps or hurts the economy. Again, business conservatives have different views than the rest of the country. They are by far the most enthusiastic about the financial industry’s contributions:
3. U.S. Economic System. Finally, Pew polled the respondents about whether they believe the economic system favors “powerful interests” or is “generally fair to most Americans.” The results speak for themselves:
Once again, it’s only business conservatives who think the system is fair—and by a wide amount.
4. Immigration. Numerous surveys have found that immigration reform is where base conservatives and business Republicans depart. The Pew survey is no different. In fact, business conservatives widely believe that immigrants strengthen the country, compared to steadfast conservatives who find them a burden. But steadfast conservatives are not alone in their beliefs. They are joined by “hard-pressed skeptics” who generally lean Democratic, but are struggling financially.
Within the Republican Party, business conservatives frequently hold sway. Just look what happened when House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp released his tax reform plan. House Republicans freaked out at the inclusion of a bank tax. Camp’s tax plan is now dead. But the steadfast conservatives sometimes have influence, too. If they didn’t, immigration reform would probably be law by now.
The Democrats have a similar divide within their own ranks, and you can see signs of it in the same Pew data. For instance, the “Faith and Family Left” have very different views from solid liberals on social issues like gay marriage and abortion. But the differences are less stark. And while the monied classes certainly wield a lot of power within the Democratic coalition—just look how many times President Obama has floated curbs to Social Security payments—this is still the party has jacked up taxes on the rich, slapped new regulations on employers and polluters, and transferred hundreds of billions to the poor and middle class for buying health insurance.
Danny Vinik is a staff writer at The New Republic.