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What's Your (Stereo)Type?

To the delight of the chattering classes of Washington, Andy Kohut's fine folks at the Pew Research Center have released a new Political Typology study. It purports to divide the electorate into nine categories, with three each for Democrats, Republicans and "the middle," though it turns out Bush won "middle" voters handily in 2004. Now you have to understand that political junkies love typologies like drunks love cheap whiskey. Why? Well, to be cynical about it, typologies make it easy to sound sophisticated about the deeper currents of political behavior, and the subtle but real differences between voters who in any given election may vote for the same candidate or identify with the same party. Moreover, typologies are often used to identify some hot new "swing" voter category that one party or the other is supposed to pursue or cherish: thus, the famous "soccer moms" of the 1990s and the "NASCAR dads" of more recent vintage.But there's another feature of the new Pew study that's creating some buzz: right there on the site you can answer 25 questions and find out which of the nine categories you supposedly fit into. And that's where I began to lose a lot of confidence in Pew's understanding of the electorate.Question after question, the survey lays out a long series of false choices that you are required to make: military force versus diplomacy; environmental protection versus economic growth; gay people and immigrants and corporations and regulations G-O-O-D or B-A-A-D. Other than agreeing with a proposition mildly rather than strongly, there's no way to register dismay over the boneheaded nature of these choices. For the record, the Typology Test identified me as a "liberal," probably because the only question on which I registered any strong feeling was about the need to treat homosexuality as an acceptable way of life. But I absolutely reject the idea that this test captures much at all of how I actually think about domestic and foreign policy issues, and several people I tend to agree with wound up being tossed into some other category. To be fair, the Typology Test does not include all the questions Pew used in the actual surveys on which the typology depends; the full questionnaire does at least get into more nuanced issues like the budget and tax policy, Iraq, Social Security and so forth. But still, it made me a lot less excited about the prospect of slogging through 119 pages of analysis of "Disadvantaged Democrats," or "Enterprisers" or "Upbeats."So all of you out there in political junkieland, do yourself a favor: before you start enthusing about the strategic implications of the Pew typology, take the test yourself and see if you think it helps identify types, or just stereotypes.
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