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Who are the liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, part 2

Recently I posted some graphs showing that liberal Democrats have a similar income profile to the general population, while conservative Republicans are more concentrated in the higher half of the income range.

Some people conjectured that the patterns might depend on whether people are thinking of liberalism/conservative as representing social or economic issues. So Daniel and I redid the calculations, looking separately at three different measures of survey respondents’ ideology as derived from the 2000 Annenberg survey:

– self-positioning on the liberal/conservative scale

– position on a scale of economic ideology (based on combining the responses to several survey questions; details in Red State, Blue State)

– position on a social ideology scale (based on combining several other survey responses).

This gave us three 3×3 grids of graphs, one for each of the three ideology scales. This was too much to display, so Daniel and I reduced the data as follows: For each ideology measure, we created five categories of people:

– Liberal Democrats

– Moderate Democrats or Liberal Independents

– Neutral (these included Conservative Democrats, Moderate Independence, and Liberal Republicans)

– Moderate Republicans or Conservative Independents

– Conservative Republicans

This five-point scale takes you from one extreme of ideological partisanship to the other, and with only five categories instead of nine, it’s easier to display.

Here’s what we found (click on the graph to make it larger):


There are some differences between the different measures of ideology, but the take-home point for me is that the patterns are basically consistent: liberal Democrats by any measure are pretty well distributed across the income scale, and conservative Republicans are more concentrated among the upper incomes.


  1. Eric says:

    Thank you for doing this. The conventional wisdom concerning ideology in this country drives me crazy.

  2. Brian says:

    We shouldn't fall prey to the fallacy that poor people are liberal because they are poor. They may be poor because they have a certain world-view: i.e. they are not responsible for their own outcomes. And successful people with high-incomes may be wealthy because of their world-view, not vice-versa.

    Certainly, there is a lot of feedback and interaction occurring between the two variables, but I had to fight my own instinct to label liberals and conservatives at either end of the income spectrum as purely self-interested.

  3. Dave says:

    Cool. Thanks for making the distinction and posting. There are some subtle difference in the income distributions, but it's difficult to make any interesting conclusions. For instance, this shows that Conservative Republicans have more high earners than low earners (and hence have more high earners choosing economic and social conservatism; although clearly even more identify with economic conservatism than social conservatism in the top incomes), but does little to tell us what the likelihood of a high earner being socially conservative or economically conservative is.

    It would be interesting to see distributions of economic and social ideologies by income (as opposed to income distributions by ideology).

  4. Krish Swamy says:

    As always, extremely good analysis and depiction of data. As Eric mentioned in an earlier post, certainly lays to rest a lot of the conventional wisdom.

    I wonder whether there is a cross-tab that looks at income between self-earned and inherited. I wonder what kinds of views that would show. Also, in self-reported ideology, was Libertarian an option? A lot of people I know who are high-income are highly Libertarian and not necessarily big corporate Republicans. Wonder whether your data supports my very anecdotal observation.

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