In light of “libertarianish” Sen. Rand Paul’s recently announced candidacy for president, the New York Times’ Paul Krugman veered into public opinion to make a bold claim that most Americans are either liberal or conservative and little else.
He explains that in theory there could be more than simply liberals and conservatives. For instance, if political attitudes were structured along multiple dimensions like along economics and social issues, that would produce at least four different ideological groups:
- Liberals (economically and socially liberal)
- Conservatives (economically and socially conservative)
- Libertarians (socially liberal and economically conservative)
- “Hard hats” or communitarians (socially conservative and economically liberal)
Yet, without referencing data, he asserts that in practice few people exist in the libertarian or “hard hat” (or communitarian) boxes. His graphic is pasted below:
For this reason, it’s not surprising that statisticians and academics used survey data in response to Krugman to demonstrate that Americans are more complicated than just red and blue. For instance, Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight cross-tabs support for wealth redistribution and same-sex marriage to show about a quarter of Americans fit in the libertarian box: oppose income redistribution and support marriage equality.
However, one could argue that by this definition, based on only these two questions, Paul (who indirectly instigated this debate) may not even be categorized in the “libertarian” box.
Perhaps a more precise way to measure this is to use multiple issue questions to derive a measure of each person’s ideology on economic issues, and multiple questions to estimate their ideology on social issues, and then use their scores as coordinates to map them across the four quadrants.
Figure 1 uses survey data from the American National Election Study Evaluations of Government and Society Survey 2 (EGSS 2). I average responses to several questions about economics to create an “economic issues scale” scaled from liberal to conservative. Similarly, I use questions about immigration and religion for a “social issues scale” scaled from liberal to conservative. (All question wording is found in the footnotes below.) Thus, each respondent is assigned an “economics” and “social” ideology score used to map their ideological coordinates and placement in one of the four boxes.
Figure 1 reveals a complicated electorate with 19 percent in the libertarian bucket (economically conservative and socially liberal) and 20 percent in the “hard hat” box (economically liberal and social conservative). This is a far cry from Krugman’s estimate of “basically empty” boxes.
Where Do The People Live, Politically Speaking?