Libertarianism

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

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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 Dowd, Gallup, 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.