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Volokh Readers and the American Political Spectrum -- A Poll:
I was very interested in yesterday's poll results on reader attitudes towards President Bush, and I wanted to add an important follow-up question: Readers, how do you identify yourself on the American political spectrum?

How do you identify your political orientation?
I'm very conservative.
I'm moderately conservative.
I'm in the center.
I'm a libertarian.
I'm moderately liberal.
I'm very liberal.
I really don't fit into any of these categories.
  
Free polls from Pollhost.com

  I realize that this is completely unscientific and that I'm asking for a very crude measurement. Still, I'm interested in seeing the results.
scote (mail):
This might make a better survey if it were divided up into categories such as "fiscal" and "social," these categories beg the question "conservative" about what?
7.11.2007 3:19am
jgshapiro (mail):
I realize that the definitions of each category are up to the reader to surmise, and lots of things will affect your pick -- for example, (1) whether you are focusing on foreign policy, social issues, economics, etc. and (2) where you live (what your baseline is for the center) -- but if you are picking a point on a scale from left to right where you fall, how can you not fit into any of the categories? How can you not fall anywhere on the scale?

The whole thing is a generalization, since no one really fits into any of the categories completely. The last choice just seems to undermine the entire exercise.
7.11.2007 3:27am
OrinKerr:
Scote,

Yeah, there's really no way to deisgn a poll like this without annoying someone. If it's simple, it's too simple and doesn't capture nuance; if it's complicated, it's too complicated and too hard to understand.

JG,

Lots of people don't see themselves as fitting along the left-right spectrum. Given that the VC leans libertarian, I added an explicit category for that; but it seemed too complicated to add many more categories beyond it. So I went with "other."
7.11.2007 3:35am
Nels Nelson (mail):
jgshapiro, I chose that last category because, though internet political tests would identify me as somewhere around the center, there are very few issues on which I hold moderate views. Probably if I put effort into it I could identify some philosophy that is closest to my own, and ignore all the outliers, but I haven't really bothered.
7.11.2007 3:49am
Patrick (www):
Interesting. Lots of libertarians with the Left and Right spectrums pretty well balanced (as of this posting.)
7.11.2007 3:50am
Ramza:
I put down I am a libertarian, yet at the same time I am very much an "independent." My political goals/dreams about how things should be are almost always very libertarianish, at the same time my pragmatic side is very independent.

This will make sense to some and not for others.
7.11.2007 4:32am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
My problem with the survey, as it appears to be with some others here, is that it is too simplistic. I would consider myself a moderate conservative libertarian. A little to the right on social issues, more so on international, esp. the War on Terror, but extremely distrustful of government. I am willing to live with government intrusion in defense, etc., but not domestically.

I would guess that many of the posters here, possibly a strong majority, would have some libertarian tendencies, regardless of other political leanings, given the makeup of the Volokh Conspiracy. So, I think that it might have been better to have made this two dimensional, with strengh of libertarian sentiments being one of the two dimensions. Of course, this might have made it too complex, but would have resulted in a neater graph.
7.11.2007 4:38am
Bah (mail):
"I would guess that many of the posters here, possibly a strong majority, would have some libertarian tendencies."

I put down very liberal, even though I have a strong respect for markets and market mechanisms. That's the common ground that I share with libertarians. I like markets because I think that they're the most efficient method for helping people generate wealth, whereas my libertarian friends like them because of their, what I consider silly, notions of "economic freedom."
7.11.2007 5:09am
Frater Plotter:
Some other specific issues to measure:

1. Expedience / emergency powers. To what extent should officials be permitted to put aside "normal rules" during a (claimed) emergency? Who decides that an emergency exists, and what are the exit criteria?

2. Voting behavior. Should voters look more for candidates whose views they agree with, or candidates whom they can look up to as strong leaders, or something else?

3. FOIA / sunshine / public's right to know. What affairs of government may be kept secret from the public? Court cases? Laws and regulations? Troop movements? Illegal actions of government, kept secret to avoid "embarrassing" the officials responsible?

4. Regulation of indecency and vice. Should showing women's nipples or saying "fuck" on TV be a punishable act? How about adultery, fornication, or prostitution?

5. Foreign competition / autarky / globalization. What role has government in promoting domestic businesses as against foreign competitors? Does this differ by industry?

6. What is the national interest anyway? The summed well-being of the citizenry? Respect for the nation by other nations? Ability to exert power abroad? Protection of individual rights? The well-ordering of society?


I think questions such as these would draw some more distinctions between libertarians and conservatives.
7.11.2007 6:01am
Hoosier:
These sorts of polls are going to give an approximation. I lean Christian- Democratic, so probably /less/ libertarian than a large percentage of VCers. Yet still on the right in the spectrum.

The choices don't express precidely who I am. But so what? "Moderately Conservative" does the job just fine; that description works. Especially since the US has no CD tradition, I tend to vote center to center-right.

Like a previous poster, I am struck by the left-right-libertarian balance. It shows that you can attract a variety of people when you keep a blog intellectually serious, and avoid the echo-chamber effect.
7.11.2007 7:43am
ATRGeek:
As others have implied, I think you need at least two dimensions to make sense of American politics, and that is just for ordinary domestic politics (eg, people often distinguish foreign/national security issues).
7.11.2007 7:47am
ATRGeek:
By the way, I selected the last category, but as I see it the problem is less that I didn't fit into any of the categories as that I fit into more than one.
7.11.2007 7:50am
ATRGeek:
Sorry, one last thought inspired by another thread: by including "libertarian" I think Orin already introduced a second dimension, and a simple way to flesh that out just a bit may be to just include Bruce Lindsey's "liberaltarian" category.
7.11.2007 8:33am
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
Maybe you should split the options to cover both social and fiscal conservativism/liberalism ala the Political Compass?
7.11.2007 9:32am
rbj:
Well generally I think of myself as libertarian, but many of them, especially in the LP are of the ostrich variety when it comes to foreign policy. That might have been an option in the early 1990s, but nowadays I can't see us running back behind our borders and not daring to come out lest we "offend" someone somewhere. So I went with "other"
7.11.2007 9:35am
A.C.:
I was torn between "center" and "libertarian," but I went with the former because my libertarianism depends on the issue. I want to keep the government out of almost all individual lifestyle issues, with a very limited number of exceptions for cases where one person's lifestyle actually harms other people. But I do accept a reasonable amount of government regulation of industry, especially when an activity has inherent dangers (nuclear power plants) or is very hard for most individuals to evaluate independently (sales of securities, pharmaceutical safety). My position on regulation isn't ideological, and I don't want to regulate just for the sake of regulating. I just think the government has a couple of practical tools at its disposal, and that they can be used in ways that benefit both business* and the rest of society as long as the regulators don't get carried away.

*People are more willing to buy and swallow aspirin if they know someone has checked it out to make sure it isn't poisoned.
7.11.2007 9:45am
Martin Ammorgan (mail):
All of you "I'm libertarian, except for the War on Terror" people need to redefine yourselves. That's like saying "I'm Christian, except for the resurrection of Christ part."

Okay, you want to legalize weed. Hooray. Your small stakes "libertarian" positions are nothing more than common sense, and on the large-stakes category maker, you're as big government as they come.
7.11.2007 10:01am
Cory Olson (mail):
I'm guessing we'll see a lot of "libertarian" because it sounds cool. Of course, I doubt that many of those individuals truly are libertarian (and certainly as far as politics and political parties go).
7.11.2007 10:15am
Rich B. (mail):
The right way to do this sort of poll, without garnering these criticisms, it to come up with candidates who typify the viewpoints, and make the poll about whom you would vote for if you were the deciding voter in an election.

Based on all my viewpoints combined, I reluctantly voted that I was "moderately liberal." If I had seen a group of names, it would have been easier to say that I'd vote for Bill Richardson for President over Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul, or Ross Perot.
7.11.2007 10:25am
notregistered (mail):
I think this site could use a posting explaining exactly what modern libertarianism, in a general social context at least, entails. I realize its impossible to give a hardline platform for something like libertarianism, which is so dependent on personal interpretation of principles, but I think it would be useful to get an idea of what the "consensus" or "prominent" libertarian positions are on modern hot-button issues (both a theoretical position and a practical recommendation).

Unless someone knows of a site that can provide this...
7.11.2007 10:26am
A.C.:
Lifestyle issues aren't all low stakes. There's pot, of course, but how about global warming? (I know, I HAD to bring it up. But let's assume for the sake of argument that it's real and linked to carbon emissions from human activity.) Should the government tell us the kind and number of lightbulbs we are allowed to use at home? I say no, but I do think the government might have something to say about the mix of sources used to generate the electricity that powers the bulbs. Whether I'd support any particular program depends on the details, and my ideological position doesn't force any particular answer.
7.11.2007 11:01am
New World Dan (www):
I'm libertarian, except for the War on Terror

Depends, I suppose, how you define the war on terror. I don't feel the futile nation bulding exercise in Iraq has anything to do with the War on Terror (except for breeding the next generation of terrorists). If you want to talk about going out and disrupting the financial networks of Al Queda or blowing up training camps, then yes, I'm all for it. Taking my shoes off at the airport, not so much.
7.11.2007 11:39am
NYSofMind:
Since I doubt I'm alone in agreeing with about two thirds of what appears on this blog, but being substantially alienated by the, er, 'gun stuff', I'd be curious to see a poll of gun ownership and affinity among the readers.
7.11.2007 11:40am
JosephSlater (mail):
How about something even simpler, like: "Which party's candidates do you normally vote for? Repub.; Dem.; Libertarian; Green; Other.

Of the people who actually write comments, I would guess Repubs would be in the majority (since I think the type of "libertarianism" this site features and attracts is typically more aligned with political conservatism).

But I'll say again, I'm surprised by the high total number of voters. If we assume there aren't repeat voters, a lot more folks read this blog than write comments.
7.11.2007 11:54am
Teague:
Keep doing these polls. I find them very interesting, and the suggestion of someone in the other poll thread to focus in on specific issues sounds promising.
7.11.2007 11:56am
NRWO:
Re: Two dimensional political classification schemes.

A previous post (Jan 2007) referenced two dimensional schemes, which the VC readership commented on (http://volokh.com/posts/1168453870.shtml).

The problem is that software used to produce the scheme does not produce polling (aggregate) results.

FWIW: VC commenters didn't really like the 2-D poll, either.

site:volokh.com nrwo politics
7.11.2007 12:12pm
Taeyoung (mail):
If it's simple, it's too simple and doesn't capture nuance; if it's complicated, it's too complicated and too hard to understand.

I think one of the big problems is the conception of "conservative" -- in the American context, there's a general political consensus on what it stands for, but at root, it's more a general attitude than anything else. And people coming out of different traditions -- New England vs. Southern vs. Immigrant -- potentially have very different views on what a "conservative" order would be. This is sort of like the problem where "right-wing" and "left-wing" in the US don't match up well with analogous "right-wing" and "left-wing" movements in other countries.

For my part, I put myself down as ultraconservative, because basically I am. Except that I'm an atheist and pretty much always have been, and in some ways that removes me from the core of what, in the United States, constitutes a "conservative" worldview, rooted in actual human experience and shared cultural understanding. That's a difference that a social/economic indexing really wouldn't capture well.
7.11.2007 12:30pm
DiverDan (mail):
I also put myself down as Libertarian, But I'd venture to guess that I'm totally at odds with most libertarians on the issue of whether certain watershed Supreme Court opinions were rightly decided. For example, I think both Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas were terrible decisions. It's not that I disagree with the policy decisions made by the Court in those cases; to the contrary, from a purely philosophical point of view, I applaud those policy decisions. But I strenuously deny the authority of the Judiciary to make those decisions under our Constitution. So, is there a subcategory for "Constitutional Libertarians"?
7.11.2007 12:39pm
Hattio (mail):
I also had to choose between moderately liberal and other. The problem is, on most policy issues I tend pretty hard to the liberal line (not the moderate liberal line). However, I basically support markets (with regulation for externalities like environmental damage etc). The other thing that makes me very much not like most liberals is I'm pretty hard line on gun rights. I generally think folks shouldn't permanently lose their right to own guns for any reason that wouldn't have them locked up forever. Yes, that includes those convicted of domestic violence (an exception for DV crimes committed with guns would be fine), and those convicted of felonies, especially non-violent ones. I see no reason why someone who forges checks should lose their right to own guns.
So, basically I went with other.
7.11.2007 12:46pm
Brooks:
Why not just ask people to take the political compass test and poll based on which quadrant they fall into?

For example, I fall around 3, -3 on their graph, which marks me as moderately conservative and moderately libertarian (as opposed to liberal or authoritarian).

It's a good tool to capture at least a bit more of the nuance in a question like this.
7.11.2007 12:56pm
OrinKerr:
TaeYoung, DiverDan,

Political views are like fingerprints: No two people have exactly the same set. And DiverDan, no two people have exactly the same views of constitutional interpretation, either. That's the problem with getting too precise in a poll like this: It's just impossible to have enough categories so that everyone happily fits in one category.
7.11.2007 12:57pm
VanMorganJr. (mail):
I listed myself as "very conservative," which is how national media would classify me on account of profession of Christian faith (well, Methodist anyhow). In reality, I'm a fiscal and defense conservative and social libertarian, which wasn't a category offered.
7.11.2007 1:01pm
Jam:
Looks like Libertarian is the real center.
7.11.2007 1:18pm
advisory opinion:
Interesting. Looks like Volokh readers are pretty much from both ends of the spectrum (and the centre). This is a fair reflection of the comment threads on VC: even spread all round and rarely an echo chamber.

If Crooked Timber (the self styled VC of the left) were to conduct a similar poll I wonder what the results will be? Highly skewed leftwards at a guess. Such a shame.
7.11.2007 1:20pm
Houston Lawyer:
Economic Left/Right: 4.63
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: 3.85

This puts me in Thatcher territory, which I already knew. I checked very conservative in the poll.

At my last church, I served on the Board of Elders. After about a year I determined that I was the most liberal member on that 20-member board. Now that was an eye opener.
7.11.2007 1:23pm
Falafalafocus (mail):
Economic Left/Right: 5.88
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: 1.03

I checked very conservative though because the social issues which distinguish libertarians and conservatives (drugs, abortion, etc) in the compass are not nearly as important to me today as the war. Since I support the war, that is where my vote fell. I am impressed with the spread of the votes, though.
7.11.2007 1:28pm
anonVCfan:
Most people aren't as complex as they think they are. Check a box and be done with it.
7.11.2007 1:43pm
Hattio (mail):
Orin Kerr states;

It's just impossible to have enough categories so that everyone happily fits in one category.

Heck that's easy...ask for social security numbers. Voila, everyone in their own box. Come to think of it, since this is VC, the set of refuse to get one might be very large....
7.11.2007 2:11pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
After about a year I determined that I was the most liberal member on that 20-member board. Now that was an eye opener.

Yowzah! ;)

Most people aren't as complex as they think they are. Check a box and be done with it.

Yeah ... I found myself trying to think of reasons why I was only a "moderate" liberal, and then mentally kicked myself. People like to think they're moderate when they're not.

The small # of "center" votes was the most interesting feature to me; dunno how much the "libertarian" category soaked those up, or how much it reflects the polarized politics we hear so much about.
7.11.2007 2:12pm
Steve2:
Eh, I was happy enough just checking "very liberal" and being done with it. I won't even go into what my most recent political compass score was... let's just say they were both strongly negative numbers.
7.11.2007 2:17pm
ATRGeek:
Economic Left/Right: 3.13
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.72

That is basically consistent with my prior results doing this test, but as I recall I was not usually so far down the Libertarian/Authoritarian axis. I notice they changed some of the emphasis of their questions, however, so I am not exactly surprised.
7.11.2007 2:28pm
ATRGeek:
Oh, and I was about as far as possible from most of the world leaders on their graph (except the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela, and even they were pretty far away). I guess that explains why I am not very fond of partisan politics.
7.11.2007 2:32pm
bigchris1313 (mail):
Economic Left/Right: 7.75
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.38

I suppose the ability to be a political outlier is a luxury of an undergrad. Airy fairy ideas of academia and what not.
7.11.2007 2:32pm
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
For everyone who is doing the political compass test, feel free to drop your answers into the poll here.
7.11.2007 2:40pm
Dan Goodman (mail) (www):
I checked "very liberal." However, I'm conservative on one hot button issue (abortion), more libertarian than the Libertarian Party (or at least, some of its Presidential candidates) on another (I favor no immigration restrictions at all), and am off the spectrum on some issues.
7.11.2007 2:43pm
KeithK (mail):
In principle I agree with those who say that the categories are too simplistic to be accurate. Political tendencies are multi-dimensional, which the current poll won't capture well even with the addition of a libertarian category. However, the more complicated the categorization becomes the less meaningful the data will be. People will interpret the categories differently - already a problem, but moreso with more distinctions. More categories also means more spreading of results and lower sample sizes per category, which I think would tend to reduce statistical accuracy.

While not perfect, Orin's poll does produce useful, interesting information, which is pretty much the point.
7.11.2007 2:59pm
JRL:
Economic Left/Right: 8.50
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: 0.46

That puts me over closest to Uncle Milty, I suppose.

My primary beef with the approval polls is that they never give causes of the disapproval (or approval). The implication, especially in the case of GWB, is that the disapproval stems from him being "too conservative," when in fact, supported by these 2 VC polls, the disapproval stems just as much from him being not conservative enough. Same goes with the congressional disapproval ratings.

How about something even simpler, like: "Which party's candidates do you normally vote for? Repub.; Dem.; Libertarian; Green; Other.

With the dynamics of the winner take all system, I don't think that would nearly as far as getting at one's core beliefs.
7.11.2007 3:19pm
scote (mail):

Economic Left/Right

Well, I guess I must agree with KiethK that people will interpret categories differently. I don't see "economics" as a continuum on a "left/right" scale. How could I given the outrageous fiscal irresponsibility of the current administration with the collusion of Republicans in Congress?

The current administration isn't tax and spend, it is spend and make the next administration rase taxes to pay off the debt and the interest. Categorizing economics as a left right issue might have flown in the Reagan era, but you can't justify the falsehood anymore.
7.11.2007 3:28pm
ATRGeek:
scote,

If it helps, the subtitle for "economic left" is "communism", and the subtitle for "economic right" is "neo-liberalism". Note also that they rate Hitler basically right in the middle of this scale (but way at the top of the authoritarian-libertarian scale). Generally, they are explicitly critics of the one-dimensional right/left scale.

All that said, that doesn't really answer your question as to where Bush should fall on a scale from communism to neo-liberalism. But I wouldn't be too concerned about the terms "left" and "right".
7.11.2007 4:30pm
scote (mail):

If it helps, the subtitle for "economic left" is "communism", and the subtitle for "economic right" is "neo-liberalism".

Thanks. That certainly resolves my original issue. Now I don't know what to think...
7.11.2007 5:00pm
JosephSlater (mail):
JRL:

I wrote: How about something even simpler, like: "Which party's candidates do you normally vote for? Repub.; Dem.; Libertarian; Green; Other.

You replied: With the dynamics of the winner take all system, I don't think that would nearly as far as getting at one's core beliefs.

With the caveat that I don't think any of this is particularly important, I'll ask: why do you say that? Sure, party affiliation doesn't get at all the complexities of various positions people can have on various issues. On the other hand, there are two advantages to doing a poll like that.

First it's a pretty good sorter for what issues are the most important to somebody. Maybe I'm pro-union and anti-gun control, or maybe I want to ban abortion but also want to stop global warming. Listing which party I vote for would indicate which issue I care most about.

Second, it would filter out the "we don't like Bush because (odd as it may sound to some) he's not conservative enough" noise from the disapproval polls. Because those folks aren't going to be in the "Democratic" camp.

But hey, this is just for fun.
7.11.2007 5:18pm
Michael B (mail):
Interesting, at almost 2,200 votes cast and avoiding the "center" and "don't know" categories, the three "liberal," "conservative" and "libertarian" categories divide into almost precisely equal ⅓ allotments.
7.11.2007 5:38pm
Steve2:
JosephSlater: I'm thinking the reason for JRL to say "With the dynamics of the winner take all system, I don't think that would nearly as far as getting at one's core beliefs" is because of the wasted-vote phenomenon causing some portion of people who'd have voted for their party of choice if they thought it could win to otherwise have voted for the lesser-of-two-evils Democrats or Republicans. "A vote for a Green is a vote for a Republican" and all that.
7.11.2007 5:48pm
Stash:
Economic Left/Right: -0.50
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -5.49

So, I think calling myself "moderately liberal" was correct given the choices. In the democratic party I would probably be deemed "fiscally conservative" and "moderate" in the republican. I am very skeptical of economic regulation, but not against it on principle alone. I'd be "socially liberal" in either party. My rejection of the libertarian label (despite my strong anti-authoritarian score) was based primarily on a rejection of the libertarian idea that while we have much to fear from concentrations of government power, we have nothing to fear from concentrations of economic power (unless that power resides in the hands of a union). And, since the right is now so associated with "social conservatism" no anti-authoritarian can really unqualifiedly claim to be of the right. I rejected the vanilla "center" though I would have accepted a "center-left" label as opposed to a "moderately liberal" label had it been available.

In general, the self-described "moderates" (center, moderate right and left) in the survey seem to have the plurality, which seems to be in keeping with the idea of a blog interested in analysis as opposed to pot-banging for one viewpoint or another. That is, when everything is decided on ideological principle, analysis is unnecessary to forming an opinion. All policy questions have already been decided a priori. It is only when one is willing, indeed anxious, to hear all sides because it is necessary to make up one's own mind, is reasoning ever required.
7.11.2007 5:50pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Steve2:

Ah, I hadn't considered that. Well, how about a poll that said something like, "Which party do you feel best represents your political views"?
7.11.2007 6:00pm
gasman (mail):
Why is libertarian in the center of a list that is otherwise quite ordinal from most conservative to most liberal? I'm not certain that it fits well into any particular part of the spectrum, nor is it necessarily excusive of liberal/conservative bent.
7.11.2007 6:25pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
I bet there aren't a lot of other political blogs where readers self-identify almost equally as liberal and conservative. 676 to 625 right now.

I think that means it's a blog for grown-ups. Well done.
7.11.2007 7:55pm
JRL:
"JosephSlater: I'm thinking the reason for JRL to say "With the dynamics of the winner take all system, I don't think that would nearly as far as getting at one's core beliefs" is because of the wasted-vote phenomenon causing some portion of people who'd have voted for their party of choice if they thought it could win to otherwise have voted for the lesser-of-two-evils Democrats or Republicans. "A vote for a Green is a vote for a Republican" and all that."

That's it.
7.11.2007 9:49pm