Saturday, November 14, 2009

Political orientation by partisan affiliation over time

In response to a recent post, The Undiscovered Jew writes:

The partisan divide has increased because the Republicans have become much more conservative (and the Democrats more liberal) than they were between 1933 and Reagan's victory over Jimmy Carter in 1980.

People will scoff at the idea that the GOP post-1980 is much more conservative than before 1980, but the facts prove my case.
He continues on to present a general overview of how the Presidents of the last fifty years illustrate this shifting.

Fortunately, there exists an empirical method for examining this assertion. The GSS asks respondents about both their political orientations and their partisan affiliations. The following graph shows the mean political index values of white Democrats and Republicans by year. Positive values indicate conservatism and negative values indicate liberalism, with zero representing exact political moderation. One standard deviation is 1.35 index points.

Indeed, the political gap between Democrats and Republicans has trebled to become a chasm over the last few decades.

My working narrative is largely confirmed by this. With Reagan's asendancy, conservative Democrats began drifting away from the Democratic party and liberal Republicans backed away from the increasing social conservatism of the Republican party. After Reagan and the effective end of communism, the blue-blooded George HW Bush came to signify a more centrist GOP resembling what had existed before Ronnie (with the Iran-contra affair, for which Reagan's popularity suffered, playing a role in tarnishing the conservative label). In a few years, that had faltered and conservatism again came to define GOP voters with the 'Republican Revolution' of 1994. We continue on this political trajectory today.

GSS variables used: PARTYID(0-2)(5-6), POLVIEWS, YEAR, RACE(1)


Stopped Clock said...

But the definitions of liberal and conservative have also changed over time. While I agree with this post in general, one could still raise the objection that people who today identify as conservative are less conservative than people who identified as conservative in the 1970s.

Anonymous said...

Since the 70's I have gone from liberal to reactionary without changing my views!

Anonymous said...

Maybe, but political correctness indoctrination extends from pre-school all the way through university and beyond. PC indoctrination is training into radical left thinking, and everybody except a few homeschoolers gets it up the ass most of their lives.

Two parent working households are less likely to feel up to going to church on weekends, so religion is losing its influence to the PC indoc mainstream culture in schools, TV, and workplace.

That kind of dumbing down to the radical mean is bound to drag a culture into helplessness.

The Undiscovered Jew said...

Thanks for posting this.

Indeed, the political gap between Democrats and Republicans has trebled to become a chasm over the last few decades.

It appears that the chasm has widened because white Republicans and Republican "leaners" have become much more conservative since 1988 rather than white liberals becoming a whole lot more liberal over the past decades.

White liberals don't appear to be *too* much more liberal in 2008 than they were in 1974, which is not what I would have expected.

Based on the GSS information you have provided, I suspect the Democrat party itself is much more liberal today than their educated, white, Northern voting base presently is.

This may be why the Democrats lost educated, suburban independents and moderate, college educated Democrats so heavily in Northern Virginia and New Jersey this year: Obama has been governing way, way, to the left on economics for the tastes of even most wealthy, educated, suburban, Northeastern white Democrat voters.

jnc said...

How is this "political index" derived? It'd be good to know what set of questions are used to form this index.

It would also be interesting to know the tendency independents and the country as a whole have shown over the years.

Audacious Epigone said...


You, sir, are a font of post ideas :)


The index is simply the mean response on the question regarding political ideology (POLVIEWS). It's a scale item, from 1 through 7, with 1 being "extremely liberal" and 7 being "extremely conservative". I just shifted the line four to the left.

Mupetblast said...

It's difficult to believe that the chasm is greater than it was in, say, the 1930s, when the spectrum included fascists, racists and communists.

Steven Johnson gave a talk on the illusion of increasing polarization recently. The gist: the range of political debate has decreased but the stridency over the remaining issues has increased, and niche media (Fox, Rachel Maddow) has fed this.

It's here:

However, one of the few issues genuinely new and divisive is global warming.