Sunday, June 04, 2006

More people say they are conservative, but want more spending

A reader suggested that I analyze in more detail the trends in politcal views. The graphs above display the issues where there have been noticeable changes. (The red line represents people who feel were are not spending enough--in the case of marijuana, it is the percent in favor of legalization). With only one issue--military spending--do we see a conservative trend. Republicans have benefitted from the post-9/11 concern over security, but it is interesting that the pro-military trend started in the late 1990s.

More people feel we are not spending enough on education, health, and social security. So how is it that more people are also calling themselves conservative? Perhaps it has come to be associated with a tough-minded person as opposed to the unappealing image of the kooky liberal, or as a reader wrote, perhaps people equate "conservative" with "Republican," and nowadays being a Republican and being in favor of spending is not seen as incompatabile.

I have heard people say that the country is split into thirds: liberals, moderates, and conservatives. This is inaccurate:

Liberals 24.4%
Moderates 38.0
Conservatives 37.6

One the one hand, 75% of the country says it is not liberal, and there are as many conservatives as moderates, but on the other hand, conservative seems increasingly to mean "liberal (pro-spending) but not crazy." Of course, no one says they want to be taxed more: exactly 1.5% say we don't get taxed enough.


  1. Excellent analysis!

    It seems like people are actually becoming more liberal not more conservative.

    Although I don't agree that being in favor of legalizing marijuana is a "liberal" position. How many Democratic politicans favor it? Close to zero.

    Politicians clearly seem out of touch with America on that issue. According to your chart, close to 40% favor legalizing marijuana, yet 0% of elected politicians favor it.

  2. Actually, I would say that the country is becoming more conservative culturally (see previous post), but more liberal economically (see this post), i.e., "compassionate conservatism".

    Which means I have no insight into if it's the politician (W) or the voters as the root cause or a self-reinforcing phenomenon (or all three).

  3. Ron:

    Thanks a lot. But you should be very careful with this analysis. I have done a little with polling about taxes and spending. People will usually say they want higher spending if asked about spending alone, and say they want lower taxes if asked about taxes alone. This is called not making the “fiscal connection” in the literature.

    Even the increase might not mean anything, when issues are not debated anymore (Hillary care dead) ironically the fiscal connection will become weaker, and people more likely to say “yes I want to improve health care”.

    For the same reason many leftwing voters will say they want lower taxes (the poor are dumb, and interpret the question as wanting lower taxes for themselves).

    The marijuana issues does not have the same problems. I usually look at questions that avoid this as much as possible, for example questions that say “raise taxes and spending” in the same sentence. Or broad ones “is capitalism good”.

    The US is economically more rightwing compared to 20 years ago, given that issues such as goverment regulation are gone. However the status que bias is strong.

  4. I don't know how this plays out in other regions of the country, but my mom's side of the family is from the Ohio Valley -- mostly southeastern Ohio & West Virginny. Hillbilly country, basically. Probably the historically most liberal state (WV) as far as voting and unionization goes, but they've recently turned their backs on Democrats -- not b/c they love Republicans, but they're disgusted at being hung out to dry by what they see as Limousine Liberals (Clinton), who they see as taking away their guns and who are under corporate control.

  5. tino g: "But you should be very careful with this analysis. I have done a little with polling about taxes and spending. People will usually say they want higher spending if asked about spending alone, and say they want lower taxes if asked about taxes alone."

    I think the interesting thing here is not the absolute numbers (which do indeed demonstrate exactly what you said) but the trend. Over the last few years, an increasing percentage of respondants say they want government to spend more money.

  6. How do you figure the group that favors legalization of marijuana wants more spending? The drug war is enormously expensive, and it seems like I read that the majority of the resources go towards mj eradication and user arrests.

  7. Compost Books: I looked at many political issues, and displayed the 5 that showed trends. MJ legalization was the only trend that didn't deal with spending, but I included it anyway. Your point is a good one.


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