Stable American political ideology with conservatives in the lead

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PRINCETON, NJ — The political ideology of Americans in mid-2011 resembles that of 2009 and 2010, with 41% identifying as conservative, 36% as moderate and 21% as liberal.

If this trend continues, 2011 will be the third year in a row that conservatives significantly outnumber moderates – the next largest ideological bloc. Liberalism has held steady over the past six years, averaging 21% or 22%, though significantly higher than the 17% average seen in Gallup polls in the early to mid-1990s.

In the longer term, the Gallup ideology trend, dating back to 1992, documents increased political polarization in the country. The percentage of moderates fell in the mid-1930s from the low 1940s, while the combined liberal or conservative percentage is now 62%, down from 53%.

The 2011 half-year results are based on more than 10,000 American adults polled in 10 Gallup and USA Today/Gallup surveys conducted from January to June.

Far-right Republicans outnumber far-left Democrats

A much higher proportion of Republicans say they are “very conservative” or “conservative” (71%) than Democrats say they are “very liberal” or “liberal” (38%). Democrats are as likely to call themselves moderates as liberals.

Further, conservative Republicans are slightly more likely to identify as very conservative than liberal Democrats to identify as very liberal. As a result, far-right Republicans outnumber far-left Democrats by more than 2 to 1, 21% to 9%.

Relatively small and equal proportions of independents sit on the far right and far left of the political spectrum. The majority of independents (44%) say they are moderate.

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No apparent change in ideological leanings of supporters

Gallup previously described a growing polarization of Republicans and Democrats, ideologically, with Republicans becoming more conservative and Democrats more liberal. So far in 2011, the ideological outlook for both groups, as well as independents, is similar to what it was in 2010.

Among Republicans, conservatives currently outnumber moderates by almost 3 to 1, 72% to 24%, while very few are liberals (4%).

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The ideological profile of Democrats is similar to what it has been since 2007, following a gradual increase in those who call themselves liberals and a decrease in those who call themselves moderates and conservatives. Currently, about 4 in 10 Democrats are liberals, another 4 in 10 are moderates, and about 2 in 10 are conservatives.

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From 44% to 35%, more independents are moderate than conservative – with the percentage conservative continuing to be a notch higher than it was from 2000 to 2008. Another 20% are liberal, similar to the average national. Conservatism among independents rose quite sharply in 2009, from 30% to 35%, largely explaining the expansion of conservatism nationally at that time, and it has remained at that level ever since.

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Conclusion

American political culture is a broad mix of conservatives, moderates, and liberals, with conservatives continuing to be the largest group with a slight, but statistically significant, margin over moderates. This trend first emerged in 2009, spurred on by increased conservatism among independents, and has persisted ever since. Partly for this reason, the country is more polarized today than it was in 1992.

The three ideological groups coexist under a divided federal government that has struggled to come to an agreement on how to raise the national debt ceiling. The source of Congressional leaders’ difficulty in unifying their own members on the issue is evident in the finding that even within parties there is a mixture of moderates and liberals (in the case of the Democrats) and strong and conservative conservatives. weaker conservatives (in the case of the Republicans) pulling their respective parties in different directions.

Survey methods

Results are based on combined data from 10 USA Today/Gallup polls conducted from January to June 2011.

For results based on the total sample of 10,265 national adults, it can be said with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

The party breakdown for this 2011 mid-year report is based on 3,094 Republicans, 3,940 Independents and 3,054 Democrats. For results based on samples of these sizes, it can be said with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landlines and mobile phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cellphone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 domestic adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender in the region. Landline numbers are randomly selected from the phone numbers listed. Mobile phone numbers are selected using random dialing methods. Landline respondents are randomly selected within each household based on the member with the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline phone only /both, mainly mobile phone and unlisted landline number). Demographic weight targets are based on March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the non-institutionalized population ages 18 and older living in telephone homes in the United States. All reported margins of sampling error include calculated design effects for weighting and sampling design.

In addition to sampling error, the wording of questions and the practical difficulties of conducting surveys can introduce errors or biases into the results of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup’s polling methodology, visit https://www.gallup.com/.

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