Study Illuminates Differences between Conservatives and Liberals

Two empty benches on a dockIt’s no secret that the political divide between conservatives and liberals can seem more like a giant chasm. A new study by the Pew Research Group has found that the differences don’t end with ideology, though. Liberals and conservatives value different types of communities and living environments, which means that liberals and conservatives may not even live near one another.

A Divided Country

Thirty-eight percent of the population identifies as conservative, while just 23% embrace a liberal identity. The percentage of Americans who identify as liberals has been steadily rising since 2005, though, according to research from Gallup. The number of people who strongly identify as liberal or conservative is also increasing. Since 1994, the number of people whose opinions are either “consistently liberal” or “consistently conservative” has doubled. This increasing polarization might help explain the polarization of the country as a whole.

Differences between Liberals and Conservatives

The Pew Research Center’s study is based on interviews with self-identified liberals and conservatives. Researchers found some significant differences in preferences and personality between liberals and conservatives, including: 

  • Thirty-six percent of Republicans deem Democrats a “threat to the nation’s well-being,” compared to 27% of Democrats who believe Republicans pose a threat.
  • Seventeen percent of all Republicans say they’d be very unhappy if a family member married a Democrat, compared to 7% of Democrats who would rather not welcome a Republican into their family.
  • Liberals prefer smaller houses in communities where schools, restaurants, and entertainment are within walking distance. Conservatives prefer larger houses spaced farther apart, with stores, restaurants, and schools several miles away.
  • Liberals value racial and ethnic diversity in their community, while conservatives prioritize shared religious faith.
  • More than three times as many liberals (73%) as conservatives (23%) say they want to live near art museums and theaters.
  • Half of conservatives and 35% of liberals report that they’d prefer to live in a location where others share their political views.
  • Nearly six times as many conservatives (23%) as liberals (4%) would be dismayed to see a family member marry a person of a different race.

Liberals and conservatives weren’t divided on every issue, though. Both groups want to live near family and prefer neighborhoods with excellent public schools. Likewise, strong liberals and strong conservatives were more likely to seek out like-minded people and to avoid discussing politics with people who don’t share their political views.


  1. Holland, J. (2014, June 13). Study: Politically engaged liberals and conservatives don’t want to be neighbors. Moyers & Company. Retrieved from
  2. Jones, J. M. (2014, January 10). Liberal Self-Identification Edges Up to New High in 2013. Gallup Politics. Retrieved from
  3. Political polarization and personal life. (2014, June 12). Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Retrieved from

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  • Will


    July 4th, 2014 at 12:25 PM

    I think that in times like this it would be much better to see studies that show us just how much we are actually like one another over pointing out the ways that we are glaringly different.

    If we could then take some of this information that shows that hey, we do think the same about a whole lot of things, then that could be the healing process that we have been looking for.

    Instead I think that research that shows the differences reinforces in a negative way the things that we don’t share in common and could create an even greater divide among the people.

  • Rod P.

    Rod P.

    July 6th, 2014 at 5:32 AM

    Wouldn’t it be nice to actually be able to look at things from the other side’s point of view for a change instead of only seeing it as us against them? We are all in this together and it will never be that only one side is right.

  • Bev


    July 6th, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    By design, the goal of (good) scientific research is to let the truth speak for itself, absent any bias or agenda (such as your own). Researchers are tasked with full disclosure of the details of their experiments, such as selection methods, modes and means of measurements, etc… They’re also expected to release all of their results, even if those results didn’t meet their own expectations or might not be considered pleasant to some readers.

    That being said, Pew Research has been studying the changes in the US political landscape for the past 20 years. You’re quick to criticize the study, but it’s obvious you haven’t actually read it. Even the source document [Political polarization and personal life. (2014, June 12). Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.] includes a discussion about “areas of consensus”.

    Given the title of this article (“Study Illuminates Differences between Conservatives and Liberals”), why would anyone expect a discussion of similarities, instead?

  • Will


    July 7th, 2014 at 1:23 PM

    @Bev- you are right I have not read the study and don’t think that I ever implied otherwise. I would like to point out that all I said was that wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way we could look at things that we actually have in common sometimes instead of only pointing out the differences? I know that this wasn’t what this study was all about, I think that that is pretty clear. What isn’t slear to me though is how always highlighting the divisions that we have will ever bring us closer together. Done.

  • callie


    July 11th, 2014 at 2:41 PM

    They don’t even wnat to live near each other. Thus the “red” states and the “blue” states exist and once again we continue the divide.

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