Stable American political ideology; Conservatives, Moderates Tie

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Story Highlights

  • Conservatives and moderates still tied as major ideological groups
  • The Liberals remain the smallest group at 25%
  • The ideological identification of Republicans and Democrats unchanged

WASHINGTON, DC — The way Americans identify themselves ideologically has remained unchanged in 2021, continuing the narrow divide that has persisted in recent years between those who describe themselves as conservative or moderate, while a smaller share identify as liberal. On average last year, 37% of Americans described their political views as moderate, 36% as conservative and 25% as liberal.

Line graph. Annual averages from 1992 to 2021 of percentages of Americans describing their political views as conservative, moderate, and liberal. The moderate percentage was 43% in 1992 and gradually decreased to 35% in 2011 and 37% in 2021. The conservative percentage was 36% in 1992 and after a decade near that level it rose to 40% in 2003, reaching that number four times. in the next decade. It has since receded until the mid-1930s, including 36% in 2021. The liberal percentage gradually increased from 17% to 25% in 2016 and has since remained close to this level, including 25% in 2021.

Gallup’s political ideology trend, dating back to 1992, is based on annual averages of its nationwide, multi-day telephone surveys conducted throughout the year. The 2021 results encompass interviews with more than 12,000 American adults. Unlike party identity, which varied widely from quarter to quarter in 2021, Americans’ description of their political views on the conservative to liberal spectrum showed no significant movement throughout the year. year.

Over the long term, Americans’ political ideology did not vary much, but moderates were generally the leading group by a slight margin in most years from 1992 to 1998. Between 1999 and 2008, moderates and conservatives were roughly tied (within two percentage points of each other) – similar to the pattern from 2015 to present. In contrast, during a single period from 2009 to 2014 – the first six years of Barack Obama’s presidency – the conservatives held a slight advantage.

More generally, the percentage of Americans identifying as moderates has declined slightly, from over 40% in the early 1990s to nearly 35% over the past decade. At the same time, the percentage identifying as liberal has risen from 17% in 1992 to 25% in recent years, while the percentage conservative has remained relatively stable, close to the average of 38%.

Gallup measures Americans’ political ideology by asking respondents whether their political views are “very conservative,” “conservative,” “moderate,” “liberal,” or “very liberal.” Since relatively few people rank as “very” conservative or liberal, Gallup reports the results in three summary groups: conservatives, moderates, and liberals.

How would you describe your political views?

How would you describe your political views — [very conservative, conservative, moderate, liberal or very liberal]?

2020 2021
% %
very conservative 9 9
Conservative 28 27
Moderate 35 37
Liberal 18 17
very liberal seven seven
no opinion 3 3
Annual averages
Gallup

Half of Democrats still identify as liberals

The rise in Americans’ liberal identification since the early 1990s has occurred mostly among Democrats, but has leveled off in recent years. Last year marks the fifth year in a row that the percentage of Democrats describing themselves as liberal (50%) has been between 49% and 51% after reaching that point in 2017.

The 37% of Democrats identifying as moderates and 12% as conservatives are also consistent with Gallup’s findings over the past five years.

Line graph. Yearly averages from 1994 to 2021 in Democrat political ideology. The percentage identifying as liberal rose from 25% in 1994 to 50% in 2017 and has since remained near that level, including 50% in 2021. Meanwhile, the moderate and conservative percentages both declined and are now 37% and 12%, respectively. .

Independents remain more moderate than Conservatives or Liberals

Opinions of independents were unchanged in 2021, with almost half (48%) identifying as moderate, 30% as conservative and 20% as liberal.

The position of independents in recent years has been similar to what it was in the 1990s and 2000s before becoming somewhat more conservative in the early and mid-Obama years.

Line graph. Annual averages from 1994 to 2021 in the political ideology of independents. The largest proportion of independents have consistently identified as moderate, including 46% in 1994 and 48% in 2021. The conservative percentage was 31% in 1994 and, after rising to 35% in most years between 2009 and 2013 , it fell back to the level of 30% in 2021. The liberal percentage was fairly stable in a range of 18% to 24%, including 20% ​​in 2021.

Mainly conservative Republicans

Republicans’ right-wing stance held true last year, with 74% identifying as conservatives, 22% as moderates and just 4% as liberals.

About three in four Republicans have identified as conservative each year since 2018 after the proportion fell from 70% in 2016 to 58% in 1994.

Line graph. Yearly averages from 1994 to 2021 in Republican political ideology. The largest share of Republicans has consistently identified as conservative, dropping from 58% in 1994 to 70% in 2008 and 73% in 2018. It remained at that level, at 74%, in 2021. Meanwhile, the percentage of Republicans identifying as moderates has fallen from 33% in 1994 to 22% in 2021, and the liberal percentage has remained low, most recently at 4%.

Ideology differs modestly between demographic subgroups

In addition to ideological differences by party, slight to moderate differences are observed by gender, age, education, race and geographic region.

Consistent with the Republican partisan orientation of these groups, men, older adults, white adults, those without a college degree, and residents of the South and Midwest are more likely to identify as conservative rather than liberals.

Their counterparts in the population are about as liberal as they are conservative in their political views (women, middle-aged adults, college graduates, Hispanic adults, and Eastern and Western residents) or have more liberal identifiers than conservatives (young adults, graduate students, and black adults).

Ideology does not vary by household income; the plurality of all major income groups identify as moderate, and the rest are more likely to be conservative than liberal.

Political ideology of Americans by subgroup, 2021

Conservative Moderate Liberal
% % %
american adults 36 37 25
Genre
Men 41 37 20
Women 32 37 29
Age
18 to 29 23 41 34
30 to 49 33 40 25
50 to 64 43 36 19
65+ 45 32 21
Education
Postgraduate 27 36 36
University graduate only 31 38 30
Some college 38 39 22
No college 42 37 19
household income
$100,000 or more 36 38 26
$40,000 to 37 38 25
Less than $40,000 35 39 25
Race/Ethnicity
Non-Hispanic white adults 42 34 23
Non-Hispanic black adults 20 51 26
Hispanic adults 31 38 28
Region
is 31 39 29
Midwest 37 37 24
South 42 36 19
Where is 32 38 28
Party ID
Republicans 74 22 4
Independents 30 48 20
Democrats 12 37 50
Based on combined monthly data from January to December 2021
Gallup,

Conclusion

Even as the country was embroiled in debates over COVID-19 policies, US election laws, government spending, and abortion, among other contentious issues, the general ideological outlook of Americans remained stable in 2021. As one seen in previous years, more than a third each continue to call themselves conservatives or moderates, and a quarter identify as liberals.

At the same time, Democrats continue to be roughly evenly split between those who identify as liberal versus moderate or conservative, reflecting the broader ideological diversity within the party. Republicans remain overwhelmingly conservative and independents continue to skew conservatives at the margins, but the largest segment is moderate.

Independents being the largest political group, and with more independents describing themselves as moderates than anything else, it can be increasingly difficult for the two main parties to hold political power when they pursue policies that are too far apart. middle. This may be one of the reasons why party control over the presidency and Congress has alternated as much as it has over the past 25 years.

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