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The Politics of Volokh Conspiracy Readers:
We've now had more than 2,400 responses to the reader poll on your political views, and I find the results really interesting. The single biggest category was self-identified libertarians, 29% of the responses. That's not surprising: we're a libertarian-leaning group, even if we sometimes occupy the Ninth Circle of Libertarian Hell.

  I was surprised by some of the results, though. In particular, there was an almost perfect symmetry between right-of-center and left-of-center responses. Taking out the 29% who identified as libertarian and the 8% who felt they didn't really fit a category, the remaining group broke down as follows:
I'm very conservative 11%
I'm moderately conservative 18%
I'm in the center 7%
I'm moderately liberal 18%
I'm very liberal 8%
  According to these figures, 29% of responses identified readers as right-of-center, and 26% identified readers as left-of-center. Further, 43% identified themselves as being moderates in one way or another (moderate conservatives, centrists, or moderate liberals). In contrast, only 19% of responses identified readers as strongly on the left or right.

  It's not scientific, of course, but I still think it's very interesting. Incidentally, I found the free Pollhost software very easy to use; I'll probably be doing more polls on occasion in the future to gauge reader response to current events and stuff like that. Anyway, thanks to everyone who participated.

  UPDATE: I have amended the post to clarify that the blockquoted list is just a subset of the results. Sorry if that caused confusion.
Shelby (mail):
I'm particularly amused that David Friedman guards the Ninth Circle. Back into the ice with you, Orin!
7.11.2007 10:25pm
wm13:
What I don't understand is, Prof. Volokh has been quick to criticize statistically invalid polls of this nature when reported in other media, but when it's a fellow lawprof engaging in statistical nonsense, we're all supposed to pretend it means something.
7.11.2007 10:34pm
David Matthews (mail):
"I'm very conservative 11%
I'm moderately conservative 18%
I'm in the center 7%
I'm moderately liberal 18%
I'm very liberal 8%"

Total: 62% As a math/stats teacher, I can tell you that the missing 38% is far more significant than anything you care to make of the rest of the data, even assuming that the self-selection is unbiased. Sorry, but, as I so often have to tell my students, "what you did was fun; what you did was cool; the conclusions you reached were meaningless, but that's ok; God loves you and so do I."
7.11.2007 10:35pm
advisory opinion:
Can you elaborate on why it's such a surprise? Comments here are a reflection of your readership, and I always got the impression that it was pretty evenly balanced. Hardly an echo-chamber is it?
7.11.2007 10:37pm
OrinKerr:
David Matthews,

I don't quite understand. The 38% wasn't "missing": 29% identified as libertarians, and 8% said they didn't fit into any of these categories. I just didn't include them in the discussion of the left-right split because neither of those categories involved an obvious point on the left-right split.

I realize that the poll isn't scientific; only about 15% of readers responded, and who knows if that group was representative. But I don't know why you think there is a missing 38%. Can you explain a bit more?
7.11.2007 10:49pm
OrinKerr:
advisory opinion:

I knew and very much like the fact that we have a lot of readers who are left-of-center. I was just surprised that, to the extent the responses accurately reflect readership, we have as many who are on the left as on the right. I would have guessed something more like a 2-1 right/left ratio, not a 1-1 ratio.
7.11.2007 10:53pm
David Matthews (mail):
I thought there was a missing 38% because I added the numbers you posted. I didn't know about the other numbers because they were not listed.

Why I thought that there was a missing 38% was simply that, in your post, your totals added up to 62%, and 100 - 62 = 38.

Personally, I was in the 8% of "none of these categories" when I responded.

But, as a stats teacher, I'm immediately offended by numbers that add to less than (or far worse, more than) 100%

So thanks. Now it's complete.

"I don't know why you think there is a missing 38%"

just because percentages add to 100, and what you reported didn't.
7.11.2007 11:01pm
OrinKerr:
David,

Thanks, got it. I amended the post to clarify that the part in blockquotes is not the entire set of results, but only the set of results that relates to the left/right divide.

Orin
7.11.2007 11:07pm
whackjobbbb:
There you go again, Kerr, with your showy handwringing before launching into some illiberal arithmetic.
7.11.2007 11:20pm
advisory opinion:
Few blogs (if any?) have such a balanced readership. Testament to a prudent comment policy imo . . .
7.11.2007 11:26pm
Lev:
I wonder how accurate the self labeling is, not that it really matters, since it is for fun.

How often do we hear that some leftwing or rightwing extremist position is, according to the proponent, "in the mainstream." Thus, they, are centrist.
7.12.2007 1:14am
LM (mail):
Orin,

I was likewise surprised by the symmetry (again assuming any statistical validity to the sample), but I suspect it's misleading.

I have no idea how the uncategorized 8% would shake out, but I'll bet that if the survey question was a forced choice between Republican and Democrat, or Conservative and Liberal, the 29% Libertarian faction would break down along decidedly Conservative-Republican lines. I doubt it would get you all the way back to the 2-1 ratio you (and I) would have expected, but I'd think something approaching 3-2 would be plausible.

Whatever the actual breakdown, at least this left-leaning reader thinks the site's ability to sustain participation across the spectrum is a compliment to the civil tone set at the top.
7.12.2007 1:19am
LM (mail):
whackjobbbb,

Good one.
7.12.2007 1:21am
trotsky (mail):
Weird, as a self-identified centrist, I'm in the minority.

What's happened to the bell curve around here anyway?
7.12.2007 2:33am
ATRGeek:
It is too bad this just started, because I would be interested to know if this had changed over time.
7.12.2007 8:12am
Stormy Dragon (mail) (www):
The fact that people tend to avoid the two extremes when asked to choose from a range of options in a poll is a well know psychological effect, so the fact it occured here is neither suprising nor particularly informative.
7.12.2007 9:22am
Mr. X (www):
One of the reasons that you might see a 1-1 ratio in a poll, but perceive more of a 2-1 ratio based on reading the comments, is that there are people who read this blog just to keep up with what you guys are saying (the same reason I glance at Instapundit once a week). As for the rest, the comment section is not as kind to liberal views. Much easier to check a poll box than to unleash the hounds on oneself.
7.12.2007 9:55am
Eli Rabett (www):
I have a better proposal, run the same poll with the questions:

What is your perception of the politics of the other readers of this blog?

then one with

What is your perception of the politics of the writers of this blog?
7.12.2007 10:26am
JRL:
I'm not surprised by such a small showing in the "center." It's hard to be both in the center and informed. VC readers are undoubtedly more informed than the average cub bear.
7.12.2007 10:51am
Caliban (mail) (www):
I'd love to see a poll of the writers of the blog! Perhaps starting with you, Professor Kerr? Never mind what modern-day Dantes think, do you self-identify as a liberal, conservative, libertarian, or centrist? (For the record, of course, I happen to be a hard-core libertarian; although I consider that to be an extension of classical liberalism, or modern "neoliberalism.")
7.12.2007 11:08am
Houston Lawyer:
I'm sure that there are quite a few people who read this blog, who answered the poll, but who do not post comments on a regular basis.

I would like to see a poll that somehow correlates number of postings and the politcs of the posters.
7.12.2007 1:00pm
Rick Shmatz (mail):
Now that you have shown the truly irrelevant statistic of intellectual diversity among Volokh readers, how about finding out what truly matters-- the gender and racial diversity of Volokh readers.

After all, that is far more important, especially given the high number of "left of center" readers.
7.12.2007 1:30pm
CrosbyBird:
I didn't respond to this poll, but I've always had tremendous difficulty classifying myself on the conservative-liberal axis. My liberal friends (and parents) say I'm conservative, my conservative friends think I'm a bleeding-heart liberal. Still, I wouldn't classify most of my views as in the center.
7.12.2007 1:59pm
JosephSlater (mail):
I'm with Mr. X and Houston Lawyer on this one. Nowhere near 2,400 different people leave comments on this blog in even a semi-regular manner. So even skipping over the, um, methodological issues of this poll and assuming that "the readership" has as many liberals as conservatives, I'm thinking that the commenters are at least 2-1 on the conservative side.
7.12.2007 2:55pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
It is scientific. It isn't a random sample, and doesn't claim to be, but at a self-selected 15% and thousands of responses, it's a pretty good data-set. Often science works by using the data we have, instead of the data we wish we had.
7.12.2007 2:58pm
KeithK (mail):

What I don't understand is, Prof. Volokh has been quick to criticize statistically invalid polls of this nature when reported in other media, but when it's a fellow lawprof engaging in statistical nonsense, we're all supposed to pretend it means something.


There is plenty of reason to criticize unscientific polls, particularly when the results are presented as if they are scientific and authoritative. But an unscientific poll does provide some information as long as the (potentially severe) limitations are understood.

I suspect a poll about readers on a site like this will produce vastly better results than one about a hot button issue on a major news site. There's just so little reason for someone to try to bias this particular poll. (The Bush approval poll on the other hand...)
7.12.2007 3:03pm
Crunchy Frog:
I'm still wondering how opposition to open borders disqualifies one from being libertarian. Isn't border security one of the few things that the Constitution mandates the federal government do? It's this kind of self-defeating nonsense that made me leave the LP over a decade ago.
7.12.2007 3:55pm
Dave N (mail):
I actually prefer Volokh over the other blogs I look at because it is not an echo chamber. Frankly, I believe my analytical skills are better served sparring with people who disagree with my views than by being part of an echo chamber where 90%+ of the posts are in agreement.

I also appreciate the sincere and polite posts made by the overwhelming majority of the posters. While snarkiness and occassional mean-spiritedness creap into this blog, it is a testament to the VC posting policies that allows us (to quote Rodney King of all people) "to all get along" and have many thoughtful and engaging discussions.
7.12.2007 4:02pm
Mr. X (www):
I'm still wondering how opposition to open borders disqualifies one from being libertarian. Isn't border security one of the few things that the Constitution mandates the federal government do? It's this kind of self-defeating nonsense that made me leave the LP over a decade ago.


Short answer: Libertarian is not the same as constitutionalist.

Slightly longer answer: Libertarianism is about the rights of the individual and does not legitimate, or minimizes, any rights of the state. Since libertarianism envisages a "night watchman" state that deals only with security and rule of law stuff, most immigration controls are not libertarian. While a good argument can be made for a libertarian border control that checks to make sure violent criminals can't come into the country, there is not a libertarian argument for arbitrary limitations on peaceful, non-criminal people migrating freely.
7.12.2007 4:14pm
The Cabbage:
Crosby:

I've jokingly told my friends that I'm a moderate extremist. A principled approach isn't inclined to compromise, so "centrist" doesn't really apply.

Of course, I guess that's why I'm in the 6th circle of Libertarian Hell.
7.12.2007 4:54pm
liberty (mail) (www):
I missed the poll (I would have been one more libertarian) but I have a question: why in the poll results, do you show libertarian left of (or below) "moderate" instead of to the right of (or above) conservative? Any reasoning there?

It could be about whether you group be "social issues" or by "economic issues" or it could be a grouping by "extremism" or preference for "change" versus "status quo". Of course, it could also have been arbitrary. Just wondering.
7.12.2007 7:03pm
liberty (mail) (www):

While a good argument can be made for a libertarian border control that checks to make sure violent criminals can't come into the country, there is not a libertarian argument for arbitrary limitations on peaceful, non-criminal people migrating freely.


I have to disagree. So long as other states are not libertarian, a libertarian has good reason to consider country boundaries. Just as there is reason to have a military to defend ourselves against invasion, we also must recognize security and even population reasons for limiting free entry into the country. Until all states are libertarian, there won't be equilibrium, there will be osmotic pressure as the flow will all be in one direction.

There is no economic reason to be concerned about this, but there are very many practical reasons. Everyone cannot come here: 6 billion people is too many for one country the size of America.

If one cares about rights, one might care whether the people who most need to come here will be able to, or whether those who have an easier time coming in but whose rights are being less violated in their home country, will all come here first. For example, I would like to see all Cubans who want to come here able to come here- but if we allow all of Mexico to flow freely in here, for practical reasons regarding security and criminal records for example, we might only be able to handle the Mexicans and have to turn all Cubans, Chinese, etc away.
7.12.2007 7:11pm
ATRGeek:
liberty,

That sounds like statist reasoning to me: rather than letting the market sort all this out, you want the state to decide who are the good immigrants (Cubans in this case) and who are the bad immigrants (Mexicans). Similarly, you apparently want the state deciding how many people is the right population for America, rather than the ordinary functioning of labor markets.

Indeed, what exactly is the basis of your "osmotic pressure" argument (which I gather is the idea that a libertarian state in an unlibertarian world is likely to accumulate too many people)? A libertarian state is not going to offer immigrants an attractive package of social benefits (what the Europeans, for example, worry is attracting immigrants). All it should offer that immigrants might like is open labor markets. So, you are basically arguing for protectionism in our labor markets, which is not exactly a libertarian idea.
7.13.2007 8:15am
liberty (mail) (www):
ATRGeek,

First I will respond to "All it should offer that immigrants might like is open labor markets" -- indeed, thats all. But that is huge. Yes, we won't offer welfare to them, but neither can any state offer that to unlimited number of people. But they can come here and make 10 or 100 times as much as they can make back in their non-libertarian homeland. We already know for a fact that not millions but billions of people would like to come here. There is simply not enough space for all of them.

Without some kind of system, what would happen? If the entire world would allow the market to sort it out, then it wouldn't matter, as this area over-flowed, indeed the market would sort it out: land would be cheaper elsewhere and people would move there, and no place would become more crowded than people would want.

However the whole world is not free market. So, what happens when America gets over-crowded with 1 billion persons? Well, it doesn't necessarily affect any other country. We simply end up with an over-crowded country. And if we don't vote and democractically decide who "deserves" to come here based on where they are coming from, what education or skills they might have or on any other basis, then it is first-come first-served. And whther or not we put a cap in place, this will still mean that those first here will have it better. And will those people be those most in need on the basis of currently having their rights violated by countries which are least libertarian? No, probably they will be the people from the nearest-by country which is poorer than the US. Personally, as a libertarian, I want all humans to have their rights respected and therefor want those whose rights are most violated to be able to flee their rights-violating country first and come to the most libertarian country. That is because I respect the rights of all people.

Your analysis would be correct if the workls would allow a free-flow of people and money -- if the whole world were free market, but it isn't. Because there is nowhere to flow out to, we cannot make the assumptions you are making. The market can't sort it out because there is only one product with a free market (America).

It is like setting the price of all housing across the Soviet Union at 1 million rubles except certain special block-flats which are dirt cheap, and of course not allowing new housing to be built by entrepreneurs (planning the supply of housing) and then saying that you will "let the market sort it out" by not restricting access to those block-flats.

You have already planned who gets those flats based on who has easier access to the wait-lists, or who has connections, etc. The market can't sort it out-- only fighting on lines can sort it out (bribes may be able to help, but more will be connections, hierarchy within the planned system, etc).

In a truly free market where the market can sort it out, other people could build new housing, other prices could fall, etc etc. The market can't sort it out if there isnt a free market. There is no free market for countries - there is one (or a few) free countries. The rest are planned and supply of countries is planned.
7.14.2007 1:25pm