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Health

Do liberals and conservatives know what they are?

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanJuly 13, 2010 9:07 AM

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Matthew Yglesias says:

I only wish the same level of scrutiny were applied to assertions about whether the public is “liberal” or “conservative” where I believe there’s strong circumstantial evidence that many people just don’t understand these terms in the way political and media professionals understand them. For example, when you break these things out by race you find that whites are more “liberal” than blacks, which simply doesn’t describe either voting behavior or views on issues correctly.

I am sympathetic to Matthew Yglesias' point, but looking at the General Social Survey he does seem incorrect in regards to his assertion that whites are more liberal than blacks. Rather, blacks seem a bit more liberal than whites, though not nearly as liberal as their voting for the Democratic party would suggest. But most humans not are very intelligent, and Americans are humans, so there's a good chance that they don't really know what liberal and conservative mean (here my liberal readers will observe that there's been nearly two generations of usage of the term "liberal" as an insult in American politics to the point where the public may be unaware of what liberalism even entails aside from sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll). To see if there is a strong relationship between avowed political ideology and particular policy positions I decided to look at the GSS. I limited the sample to the last 10 years of the GSS, 1998-2008. I focused on the POLVIEWS variable, which asks people their own political ideology, from a spectrum of very liberal to very conservative. I want to focus on those who admit to being rather ideological, so I'll focus on the very liberal and conservative, and those who assert that they're just liberal or conservative without qualifiers. This excludes those who are slightly liberal or conservative, as well as moderates. The sample size then is ~2,000 for liberals, and ~3,000 for conservatives at most most (some of the cross-tabs have way smaller N's as only a subset were asked both sets of questions). Next I want to compare these self-identifications with policy positions which I presume are ideologically polarized. But, I also want to see how the attitudes of liberals and conservatives change by intelligence and education. One assumes that the more intelligent and educated actually have a better coherent sense of their ideological orientation and how that orientation presumably aligns with policy. So I took the WORDSUM variable, which records results on a vocabulary test from to 10, as well as the DEGREE variable which records the highest education attained. I combined WORDSUM results 0-6, which is the bottom 60% of the distribution, and labelled it average. 7-10 is the top 40%, and I termed that intelligent. For education I combined those with no high school diploma all the way to those who had some higher education, but no four year bachelor's degree, as those without a college degree. Obviously the balance have a college degree (inclusive of those who have graduate degrees as well). Here are the results for a range of variables (I've given the variables in caps so you can look them up in the GSS yourself). From left to right the columns go from the average, to the intelligent, to those with no college degree, to those with college degrees. The rows alternate between liberals and conservatives as one goes down the variables.


Note: Recodes: POLVIEWS(r:1-2"Liberal";6-7"Conservative") WORDSUM(r:0-6"Average";7-10"Intelligent") DEGREE(r:0-2"No College";3-4"College")

AverageIntelligentNo College DegreeCollege Degree

ABANYSupports legal right to abortion for any reason

Liberal54735382

Conservative21182121

MARHOMOHomosexuals should have right to marry

Liberal52826085

Conservative15121511

HOMOSEXHomosexual sex not wrong at all

Liberal40724974

Conservative8141014

FEHOMEWomen should take care of home not country (leave running country to men)

Liberal192153

Conservative30132512

SEMIGUNSAllow semi-automatic guns to be sold to public

Liberal15222019

Conservative26272726

SPKRACAllow racist to speak in community

Liberal62816381

Conservative50695572

SPKCOMAllow Communist to speak in community

Liberal62926993

Conservative53795883

RACMARFavor law against racial intermarriage

Liberal102102

Conservative187174

CAPPUNFavor death penalty for murder

Liberal66476434

Conservative78827784

SPHLTHGovernment should spend much more on health care

Liberal5153

Conservative2510

NATFAREGovernment is spending too little on welfare

Liberal29342638

Conservative1911176

NATARMSGovernment is spending too little on military

Liberal1612187

Conservative36403840

NATARTSGovernment is spending too little on arts

Liberal2768

Conservative1416

NATCHLDGovernment is spending too little on childcare assistance

Liberal66676670

Conservative52385030

NATSCIGovernment is spending too little on scientific research

Liberal48554959

Conservative37363635

NATSCIGovernment is spending too little on highways and bridges

Liberal37393835

Conservative44414037

NATRACEGovernment is doing too little to assist blacks

(limited to whites for this question)

Liberal43554258

Conservative20131618

NATEDUCGovernment is doing too little to improve education

Liberal78857887

Conservative63616357

TAXFederal income tax is too high

Liberal67506341

Conservative65706767

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