Saturday, June 03, 2006

In the past few decades, have Americans moved right? Berkeley political scientist Paul Pierson has written that the Republican Party has moved sharply right in the last three decades and has been very successful in spite of the fact that the American public has not moved right at all during the same period. (He argues that they have been so successful because they are more cunning and unified than Democrats, and their going against the public's will has undermined democracy). But is this core claim of his true that Americans have not shifted? Since 1974 the GSS has asked respondents to describe themselves on a range between extremely liberal and extremely conservative. I calculated the mean score for all the years available from 1974 to 2004. Here are the numbers for each decade (4=moderate and higher numbers are more conservative):

1974: 3.98
1984: 4.17
1994: 4.17
2004: 4.23

And the trend is stronger when we only look at the people who actually vote:

1974: 3.97
1984: 4.22
1994: 4.19
2004: 4.34

So Pierson is wrong, they have gotten more conservative. On the one hand, the move to the right has only been 1/3 of a standard deviation, but in politics even small shifts can swing elections.


  1. Very very intresting, one of the questions I most wanted to see quantified.

    Can you look at answers to precice policy questions? (taxes, corporations etc).

    Also gender/etnic/ae differences would be nice to see.

  2. But have people's views TRULY changed, or has the Republican party, which is associated with "conservatism," just become more inclusive?

    For example, religious people who may have previously been Democrats and said they were "liberal," have now switched to the Republican party which is clearly the more pro-religoius party, and now they say they are "conservative" even though their views have not changed at all.

  3. I should add that these results shouldn't be surprising when one knows that Republicans's share of Congres has increased significantly over the last 30 years. Because the Republican party is synonymous with "conservative," OBVIOUSLY voters are more likely to indentify as conservative now than they were 30 years go. Otherwise, how would Republicans be winning elections?

    But the Republicans don't seem especially conservative anymore except on matters of religion.

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