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Reason-Rupe Poll Finds 24 Percent of Americans are Economically Conservative and Socially Liberal, 28 Percent Liberal, 28 Percent Conservative, and 20 Percent Communitarian

ABC News Analyst Matthew Dowd recently highlighted a puzzling fact about the American electorate: nearly 51 percent are neither conventional conservatives nor are they conventional liberals. He concludes that the 51 percent must be a “mishmash of independents, and not ideological members of either political party.” The latest Reason-Rupe poll results help identify those Americans who do not fit the conventional liberal-conservative mold.

The Reason-Rupe poll finds that about 24 percent of the electorate consists of small government types: They want government to be less involved in both economic and social issues. Roughly, they could be labeled the “libertarian group." About 20 percent of the electorate, labeled “communitarian,” prefer government to be involved in both economic and social issues. Conventional American liberals, who are economically and socially liberal, make up 28 percent, and American conservatives, who are economically and socially conservative, make up another 28 percent.

American Electorate

Gallup also used a similar grouping method, finding nearly identical results: It found a libertarian group that wants to “keep it small” at 22 percent of the electorate; liberals, or “Obama liberals,” at 24 percent; conservatives, dubbed “Morality first,” at 17 percent; and communitarians, labeled “the bigger the better,” at 20 percent. Gallup also included a fifth group, the “mushy middle” at 17 percent.

Source: Gallup Poll

Methodology: 

These four political groups were determined using standard “role of government” questions to understand respondents’ preference for government action in both social and economic issues, as well as their preference for a more activist or limited government overall. The questions are below:

Q51  “The less government the better”; OR, “there are more things that government should be doing.” 

Q52 “The government should be doing more to regulate businesses”; OR, “Too often, government regulation of businesses does more harm than good.”

Q53 “We need a strong government to handle today’s complex economic problems”; OR, “People would be better able to handle today’s problems within a free market with less government involvement.”

Q54 Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?

Different Ways To Cut It: Similar Results

There are several ways to use standard role of government questions to determine the percentages of the four groups. Using different combinations produces nearly the same results. You can see the results of using different combinations below:

In conclusion, ABC News’ Matthew DowdGallup, and the Reason-Rupe Poll findings together demonstrate a substantially more nuanced view of the American electorate. Americans cannot easily be bundled into either the “liberal” or “conservative” groups, and to do so would be to underestimate the potential for a majority of Americans to provide substantial support for non-conventional candidates.

For more discussion of ideological groups in American politics, please click here.

Click here for full survey results.

Survey Methods

The Reason-Rupe Q3 2011 poll collected a nationally representative sample of 1200 respondents, aged 18 and older from all 50 states and the District of Columbia using live telephone interviews from August 9th-18th 2011. The margin of sampling error for this poll is ± 3 percent. The margin of error for the GOP presidential race numbers is ± 4.79%. Interviews were conducted with respondents using both landline (790) and mobile phones (410). Landline respondents were randomly selected within households based on the adult who had the most recent birthday. Sample was weighted by gender, age, ethnicity, and Census region, based on the most recent US Census data. The sampling frame included landline and mobile phone numbers generated using Random Digit Dialing (RDD) methods and randomly selected numbers from a directory-listed sample. Click here for full methodological details. NSON Opinion Strategy conducted the poll’s fieldwork. View full methodology.

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  • Anecdotal ||

    My guess is that libertarians main voting issue is the free market. I'm also guessing so called communitarians main issue is likely "family values"... I base this on anecdotal evidence that seems to suggest socially conservative people vote mainly based on a candidates stance on things like abortion. Likewise libertarian leaning types seen more likely to vote for free market proponents who are also social conservatives, as opposed to big government social liberals.

    If I'm at all correct, then it would seen Republicans would stand to loose more then they would gain by Fielding a socially liberal candidate...sure libertarians would be much more excited to go vote for a socially liberal Republican, but many of these people would of voted for the Republican candidate regardless. On the other hand, it seems reasonable to suggest an openly social liberal Republican would substantially lose value voters who are mainly voting on social issues. A dmoderate Democrat on social issues could easily win the votes of many values voters who will refuse to vote for a candidate embracing libertarian friendly ideas on social issues...


    This is the reason I doubt we will see a social liberal Republican winning a primary any time in the near future.

    ore willing to stomach a socially conservative free market proponent then a big government social liberal. If my

  • Anecdotal ||

    I apologize for my writing, my phone makes it very difficult to revise anything I have already typed... disregard please

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    The definition of "communitarian" in either survey bias the results. Completely left out is any idea of subsidiarity, which is essential to many communitarias. Good somebody is thinking outside the usual Left-Right straightjacket, though.

  • BoZimmerman||

    In my experience, "subsidiarity" is a unicorn principle in communitarian circles. It's given lip service, but there's no law they want passed which, when proposed at the highest level, they won't advocate for.

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