Monday, March 16, 2009

Misleading media labelling of Democrats as conservative, Republicans as moderate?

One of the first political books I read was Ann Coulter's Slander. In making the case that cultural and political media bias is not always overt but is all-pervasive, she points out how "moderate" is used more frequently than "liberal" to describe leftist Republicans, while "conservative" is used more often than "moderate" in describing rightist Democrats.

What she doesn't mention, however, is that Democrats are twice as likely to describe themselves as "conservative" as Republicans are to self-describe as "liberal". Independents, too, are 11% more likely to describe themselves as conservative than they are to self-describe as liberal. That more people affiliated with the nation's left-leaning party consider themselves to be on its right side than members of the right-leaning party say they're on its left gives credence to the assertion that the US is basically a "center-right" country. In querying respondents on their political ideology, the GSS data can easily be converted to a seven point scale, with 1 as the most liberal, 7 as the most conservative, and 4 representing the center. From the turn of the century, the US averages a 4.15.

Consequently, the major media descriptions are not as detached from the political reality 'on the ground' as might be assumed. The following graphs compare how the New York Times labelled members of the two major parties from the beginning of 2000 to the end of 2006 to how people have self-labelled, by way of the GSS, over the same period of time (click on the following graphs for higher resolution).

The NYT is more fond of the adjective "moderate" than "conservative" or "liberal" when it comes to Republicans. Since the newspaper's focus is geographically skewed somewhat toward the Northeast, its reasonable to expect "liberal" to be used for Republicans at least as frequently as Republicans nationwide use it to describe themselves. So Coulter's accusation that the major media tends to label leftist Republicans as moderate has merit. On the other hand, Republicans are more likely to describe themselves as conservative than the NYT is to describe them that way.

Similarly, it is expected that the NYT would describe Democrats as "conservative" no more frequently (and presumably less so) than Democrats describe themselves as such. That the paper slightly overuses the adjective lends additional credence to Coulter's charge. The NYT's heavy use of "liberal" in describing Democrats, however, undercuts the assertion that it strives to make the left look like the center and the right look like the far right.

Constructing a simple scale, with +1 representing "conservative", 0 "moderate", and -1 "liberal", how the NYT describes the political landscape and how the public describes itself, by party affiliation:



Relative to how the public actually describes itself, the NYT portrays Democrats as considerably more liberal and conservatives as slightly more liberal than both groups portray themselves.

It's tough to ascertain how much of this is due to a geographical bias leading to left-leaning areas receiving more coverage, but if anything, the NYT appears not to be providing cover for leftists by portraying them as moderates, but instead goading them on by making note of (and thus in the eyes of many whiterpeople, celebrating) their leftism.


Stopped Clock said...

Do you happen to know what percentage of conservative Democrats are white? My impression has always been that "conservative Democrat" is more or less a synonym for black, though it may include some old-fashioned northern whites and an increasing number of Hispanics.

Audacious Epigone said...


They're not synonymous, but there is black overrepresentation among self-identified conservatives who are Democrats.

Conservative Democrat distribution (N = 830):
White -- 60.1%
Black -- 26.4%
Hispanic -- 7.3%
Asian + other -- 6.2%

Moderate/liberal Democrat distribution (N = ):
White -- 66.5%
Black -- 21.0%
Hispanic -- 7.5%
Asian + other -- 5.0%

Anonymous said...

How the press operates:

Liars, all.

Blode0322 said...

The mere fact that leftists are described as "liberal" strikes me as evidence of a left-wing bias. And then when you look at the open-borders hippies who get to be labelled "libertarians"....

But a lot of this is pure semantics. The terms are vague enough that I shouldn't put too much stock in someone misusing them. The real test of leftism in media is how much they cover up noneconomic crime rates, dropout rates, and IQ deficits among blacks and Chicanos, while at the same time wondering aloud what causes "economic inequality" (and using economic inequality to explain crime).

BGC said...

US names seem odd to an Englishman - in the first place the term Liberal originally meant free-marketeer, but has been reversed in the US.

Then there is the US reluctance to use 'socialist' to refer to people whose major political principle is egalitarianism.

Obviously Obama is accurately describable as a socialist (and so would be people like Paul Krugman) because they are focused mainly on equality/ inequality issues.

But in the US it is apparently regarded as a slur or wild exaggeration to mention this.

togo said...

US names seem odd to an Englishman - in the first place the term Liberal originally meant free-marketeer, but has been reversed in the US.

The names, of course, are only meaningful in terms of rhetoric. Both parties govern the same. Nixon, for example, continued LBJ's social-democratic "Great Society" policies and expanded them. He continued LBJ's war. Reagan did not reduce the size the government And so on.

Now Obama is continuing Bush's bailouts and reckless spending and is
doubling the number of troops in Afghanistan. I'll have to check with Justin Raimondo at for more details of Obama's perfidy.

Audacious Epigone said...


Right. By asking the questions and then ignoring the answers, the attempt is being made to will the undesirable answers out of existence. From our viewpoints, the popular political descriptors are trivial by comparison. But I still find the subject interesting.


The term "socialist" clearly does have negative connotations in most political contexts in the US. Its use is not infrequent, but it is usually an accusatory label used against those concerned primarily with egalitarianism rather than being embraced by these same people (who tend to deny or deflect it).


Well put. Steve Sailer's recent VDare column shares this theme.