Political labels liberal and conservative can be highly misleading


A few weeks ago, I posted something here about a Gallup poll showing that identification of themselves as liberals was roughly equal to claiming that they’re conservatives among Americans in general.

This finding was represented as an improvement for the liberal side, especially as time has passed since Republicans first succeeded in demonizing the L-word some 30 years ago.

And now there’s THIS about another poll:

A new analysis of Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll data finds a marked  increase in the share of registered voters identifying themselves as liberals, and an even bigger drop in the share saying they are conservatives.

But, the more I think about it, the more I think these findings are at least a little misleading.

The big question is exactly how Americans define these labels, liberal and conservative. And the big problem is that we don’t really know the answer to that question.

It’s fairly certain that some folks who embrace the liberal view on most issues do not consider themselves liberals. Consider, for example, that polls show majority support for gay marriage and legalization of marijuana, which are liberal positions by any reasonable measure. But some people who hold those positions likely do not consider themselves liberals.

And then there are people who say they’re liberal on social issues but conservative on economic issues. Does that make them so-called moderates.

And what about the minority of self-declared Republicans who think of themselves as liberals? In the past few decades, the GOP has moved considerably farther to the right on the political spectrum; so how can there be any liberals who still call themselves Republicans?

Another factor to consider: In five of the past six presidential elections, the popular vote has been carried by Democratic candidates, each of whom was decidedly more liberal than the Republican choice. Does that not show that the liberal bent is more popular than the conservative slant?

In the final analysis, I think lots of people aren’t really sure what these labels mean — or their definitions vary from what the political scientists say.

After all, we’re talking about a populace that is notoriously apathetic and/or ignorant on political matters. How can someone who can’t correctly identify the three branches of the federal government accurately declare that he or she is a liberal or a conservative?




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