All Things Considered, May 21, 2009 ·
For the past two years, centrism has dominated Americans' political views. That's the conclusion of the latest survey, released Thursday, from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
Pew President Andy Kohut says the number of people reporting that they are political independents reached a 70-year high, but there was little movement regarding people's values. That's even though President Obama's election marked a watershed moment for the United States.
"Even though it was a big Democratic win and the Republicans are in free-fall, there's no sign of an ideological shift," Kohut tells NPR's Melissa Block. "Values are pretty much the same. It's not like the mid-'90s, when we were showing the public becoming more conservative, or the beginning of this decade, showing the public was more partisan. Public remains pretty much where it was two years ago on very basic values."
Of the independents surveyed, more described themselves as "leaning" Democratic than Republican (17 percent vs. 12 percent.) But in surveys conducted this year, 33 percent of independents described their views as conservative, up from 28 percent in 2007 and 26 percent in 2005, according to Pew.
Kohut says this just means that independent voters are "unbalanced centrists" — they tend to have conservative views about government and regulation, and more liberal views regarding the hot-button social issues, national security and religion, he says.
He also says African-Americans reported having a more positive view of American society than they did two years ago. Sixty-two percent of African Americans — vs. 40 percent two years ago — say the country can solve its problems, Kohut says.
"Among whites, there's an even larger percentage saying that African-Americans are making progress," he says.
But the biggest surprise for Kohut was people's attitudes toward business and the free market, and Wall Street. He says they haven't changed "all that much" in two years.
"The public continues to think that business is what continues to make this country successful," he says. "They are very reluctant about regulation. This is mostly the views of Republicans, but independents joined them in this perception — some Democrats, but less often Democrats."