Their analysis used a sophisticated statistical technique to cluster survey respondents into groups whose members were as alike as possible, but that were also as different from the other groups as possible.
(Think of it as sorting your socks by color. You might end up with four clusters -- e.g., black and grey, white and cream, brown and tan, and argyle. The socks in each cluster would be very similar to each other, but very different from the socks in the other clusters. That's what they did with survey respondents, based on their demographics and opinions.)
When they were done crunching the numbers, they ended up with 8 clusters, which they gave cute names like "Minivan Moderates."
The 4 clusters in the middle represent 51% of the population. (Back to the sock example, each cluster would have a different number of socks in it, but most of the socks might be in just one or two clusters.)
More than half (55%) of the people in this new "center" describe themselves as politically "moderate." Self-identified "liberals" accounted for 20%; "conservatives," 25%. (Tea Party supporters represented 15%.)
The new center also espouses pretty pragmatic views on a wide range of hot button issues -- 54% agree the government shouldn't legislate how Americans behave in their personal lives when it comes to marriage, abortion, owning guns, or using marijuana.
On the other hand, 54% believe the government should maintain programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and welfare so people who hit on hard times don't fall through the cracks.
But the new center also feels squeezed from all directions.
Thanks to the poor economy and rising inequality, only 5% still believe America is a land of opportunity for all. Almost a third (31%) doubt that everyone can work themselves into the middle class.
Our increasing diversity seems to be squeezing the new center from the other direction as well.
Nearly two-thirds (63%) believe that in respecting the rights of minorities, “we’ve limited the rights of a majority of Americans.” Almost one in five says diversity makes them “very anxious.”
In fact, people in the new center favor ending affirmative action in hiring decisions and college admissions (57%). More than half (58%) would require voters to show photo-ID, a move which disenfranchises minority voters.
Likewise, most of the center (54%) is against a path to citizenship for people who came to this country illegally. A plurality (40%) is worried that “racial tensions” will turn violent in the near future.
The survey was conducted in August before the threat of government shutdowns and default were in the news. What's happened since can only have turned the screws on the new center.