Policy Analysis No. 3

An Alternative Analysis of Mass Belief Systems: Liberal, Conservative, Populist, and Libertarian

By Stuart A. Lilie and William S. Maddox
August 24, 1981

Executive Summary

This study, based on the 1976 Center for Political Studies Election Study, suggests that at least four different belief systems exist among the American public. We treat the dimension of government intervention in economic affairs as distinct from the dimension of expansion of individual liberties. The liberal supports govern- ment economic intervention and the expansion of individual liberties; the conservative opposes both. The libertarian supports expanded individual liberties but opposes economic intervention. The populist supports economic intervention but opposes expansion of individual liberties. Some 72.4 percent of the sample can be classified as holding consistent or nearly consistent political beliefs using these categories. The relationships between our ideological categories and demographic group- ings are generally consistent with expectations about these groups. We also explore the relation- ships between our classifications and ideological self-identification, party identification, and presidential vote.

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Stuart A. Lilie is an associate professor in, and the chairperson of, the Department of Political Science at the University of Central Florida, Orlando. William S. Maddox is also an associate professor in that department, and for 1981-82 he is a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of New Orleans, Louisiana. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, Illinois, April 1979.