Who will capture the new electorate of the New Economy? Will either political party be able to reconfigure itself to incorporate one of the fastest-growing segments of the voting population? These are among the most significant questions emerging in this heated Presidential primary season. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, which has an ongoing project studying the beliefs, values, and priorities of American voters, recently uncovered what it calls the New Prosperity Independents. A product of the high-tech, fast-growth U.S. economy of the '90s, this group accounts for 11% of registered voters, compared with 10% for liberal Democrats and 12% for staunch conservatives. This newly emergent electoral group is basically a nonpartisan swing group that leans slightly toward the Republican Party, according to the Pew center.
As the New Economy expands, these new independent voters are sure to increase and exert a growing influence on the political system. It appears that Senator John McCain won most of their votes in the earliest primaries. But they do not conform to conventional political views or fit easily within either political party.
New Prosperity Independents are generally pro-business but also pro-environment, according to Pew. They strongly favor handgun control but also want to see the capital-gains tax reduced. They generally dislike established political parties but do like the economic status quo and feel satisfied with their own financial condition. They love the Internet and the stock market. More New Prosperity Independents go online--75%--than any other political group. And 40% go on the Web for their news at least once a week. New Prosperity Independents think that corporations make a reasonable profit. More than a third trade stocks and bonds. They are sympathetic toward immigrants but less so toward the poor. Some 93% believe very strongly that everyone has it in their power to succeed. They are well-educated (38% have a college degree), young (70% are under 50), and well-off (41% have a household income of $50,000 or more). The economy and education are the two issues that matter most.
Add it up, and these voters tend to be economically self-reliant and free-market-oriented. They want the government to provide good education (via public charter schools), guarantee individual freedom to pursue opportunity, and protect the environment, but they don't want Washington or the states intruding in their personal lives. They are strongly pro-choice, and more than half have a family member, friend, or colleague who is gay. Only 13% of New Prosperity Independents go to church every week.
Absorbing what may be a rapidly growing New Economy electorate into the Republican and Democratic parties will be difficult at best, given the respective core constituencies of the traditional parties. But unless the two-party system accommodates the priorities of New Prosperity Independents, the U.S. risks fractionalizing its polity and perhaps undermining its stability in the long run.