The latest Reason-Rupe survey used a three-question screen to glean Americans' predispositions toward government. Many Americans are unclear which ideological label best describes their views about government, and many feel the traditional labels don't fit them. For instance, some may feel they agree with Republicans on economics but with Democrats on social issues. Or others may agree with Democrats on the role for government, but side with Republicans on social issues.
Consequently, Reason-Rupe asked three questions to measure Americans' preferred level of government involvement in economic and personal affairs respectively:
- Please tell me which of the following statements comes closer to your own opinion: 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.
- 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?
- If you had to choose, would you rather have a smaller government providing fewer services, or a larger government providing more services?
Reason-Rupe identified five political groupings according to the following rubric:
- Conservative—19%: Those who favor smaller government, free market solutions, and government promoting traditional values.
- Middle—35%: Provided mixed responses that did not consistently fit with one of the other four groups.
- Libertarian—16%: Those who also favor smaller government and free market solutions, but say government should not promote a particular values set.
- Liberal—16%: Those who favor strong government to problems and a larger government providing more services, and also say government should not promote a particular values set.
- Communitarian—14%: Those who also favor strong and larger government providing more services, but favor government promoting traditional values.
To be sure, these typologies are different than respondents' self-described views. Reason-Rupe found that 28 percent of Americans self-identify as conservative, 24 percent as moderate, 15 percent as liberal, 5 percent as libertarian, 10 percent as progressive, 12 percent as something else, and 6 percent did not know.
Certainly, using only three questions to categorize people's political views has its limitations. However, the benefit of using this particular three-question screen is that these are commonly asked questions and can be more easily included on surveys on a consistent basis.