Since 2011, the Reason-Rupe poll has asked a battery of questions to glean Americans’ predispositions toward government. Many Americans are unclear of what ideological label best defines their views. Instead of solely relying on self-identification, we ask a series of questions regarding the proper role of government, compiled from Gallup, Pew, and the American National Election Studies. These questions measure Americans’ preferred level of government involvement in economic and social affairs.
- Libertarian: Americans who believe government should have a limited role in economic and social affairs are defined as libertarian.
- Communitarian: Those who think the government should have an active role in regulating both economic and social affairs are defined as communitarian.
- Liberal: Respondents who think government should be involved in economic but not social matters are conventional liberals.
- Conservative: Those who think the government should be involved in regulating social issues but generally not economic issues are conventional conservatives.
The following questions have been included on each Reason-Rupe poll to measure these groups:
I am going to read you two statements. After I read both statements, please tell me which comes closer to your own opinion. You might agree to some extent with both, but we want to know which one is closer to your own views.
1. “The less government the better”; OR, “there are more things that government should be doing”.
2. “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”.
3. 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?
Reason-Rupe has also occasionally asked these additional questions to measure ideological predispositions. In these cases, responses to economic questions are averaged as are responses to social issues.
1. “The government should be doing more to regulate businesses”; OR, “Too often, government regulation of businesses does more harm than good”.
2. Some say the government should do more to protect morality in society. Others say government is getting too involved in the issue of morality. Which comes closer to your own view?
3. Do you think the personal use of small amounts of marijuana should be made legal for adults, or not?
Since 2011, Reason-Rupe has found four groups of Americans who think differently about the role of government in our society. On average about 24 percent of Americans favor less government involvement in both social and economic affairs, and 21 percent favor government involvement in both. Twenty-seven percent believe government should play an active role in economic but not social issues. Another 27 percent believe government should not regulate economic affairs but should be involved in social issues.
To be sure, these typologies are clearly different than respondents' self-described views. For instance, 31 percent of Americans self identify as conservative, 15 percent as liberal, and 4 percent as libertarian. However the method used to identify ideological typologies is intended to glean general predispositions toward the proper role of government in society.
Reason-Rupe is not the only poll to have found more than conservative and liberal groups. In fact the 2010 Gallup Governance Survey found 22 percent of Americans prefer less government involvement in social and economic issues and 20 percent prefer more active government in social and economic issues.
Note: USA Today/Gallup Poll; Read more about these groups here.