Friday, April 27, 2007

The American Public Thinks What?

The Pew Center released perhaps the most detailed survey on the 2008 presidential race to date, and it had one particular section that really caught my eye.

Pew asked respondents to place all of the candidates on an ideological scale from 1-6, with 1 being the most conservative and 6 being the most liberal. It also asked them to place themselves on the scale to get an idea for where registered voters of each party stand in relation to their candidates.

Here's the resulting chart:

(Click image for a larger view.)

The first thing that jumped out at me is how far respondents -- particularly Republican respondents -- placed the Clintons to the left. The fact is they're both centrist Democrats. There's just no way they're the furthest to the left out of that bunch.

But that, of course, is reality, and reality isn't necessarily where electoral politics is always played out. Republicans have long demonized the Clintons, and that can create a perception that they're ideologically extreme when that, in fact, just isn't the case. More evidence of this comes from the fact that nearly 2/3 of all Republican respondents gave Hillary the top liberal rating of 6.

It also struck me how incorrectly the respondents have placed John Edwards. Even Republican respondents pitted him as the most conservative Democrat in the bunch, which probably sounds ridiculous to most people who know anything about Edward's platform these days.

But it seems likely most people are still thinking of the 2004 Edwards, who was a relative moderate in his policy ideas, even though he was still quite populist in his message. I also imagine the fact that Edwards played the nice guy in 2004 has an effect on how ideological people perceive him to be -- again, a case of perception trumping reality.

I'd say Obama's placement is the most accurate of the three. Although if I was rating it and the mid-line Dem was a 4, then I'd place Obama at a 4, Clinton slightly to the right -- probably a 3.8 or 3.9 -- and Edwards slightly to the left, probably a 4.2 or 4.3.

Turning to the right, there is a clear difference between where most Republicans place themselves and where the top three GOP candidates are placed.

Of course, the right is probably more dependent on what issues you're talking about than the left. While the Dem candidates have a similar ideological position in terms of social, economic, and foreign policy issues, there is much greater divergence on the right.

Particularly in the case of Giuliani, social issues would likely place him where he's currently at on the scale, perhaps even a bit to the left, but he'd be a lot further to the right on economic and foreign policy issues.

And it would really depend on which McCain and Romney you were talking about in order to accurately place them. If it's the 2000 presidential candidate or the Massachusetts governor, respectively, they'd probably be about where they're currently at; but if you're talking about the 2008 candidates in both instances, they'd both be further to the right than they currently lie (no pun intended) on the scale.

It's similar to Edwards in the sense that most voters clearly aren't aware of McCain's and Romney's current position on issues -- or they don't believe them -- but the transformation of McCain and Romney has been undoubtedly more profound than that of Edwards. While Edwards has shifted the tone of his populism, McCain and Romney have completely altered their position on many issues to make themselves more palatable to the hard right.

The poll also found a large divergence in the way that Republicans and Democrats view the ideology of the Dem candidates, but striking similarity in the way both groups view the ideology of the GOP candidates. Here's that chart:

What's particularly notable is that independents tend to be much closer to Democrats in their view of Dem candidates. This demonstrates that Republicans tend to have a particularly skewed perception of the ideology held by Dem politicians.

Call it the Fox News effect.

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Anonymous Mike said...

Edwards position on that chart surprises me. The New Republic did a profile on him back in January that is a must read for people unclear on his position.

The fact that he detailed a very specific health care plan that included higher taxes should also show people where he stands. I doubt a centrist Dem. running for president would propose higher taxes this early in the race.

April 27, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

I agree Edwards isn't running as a centrist Dem. But, actually, the vast majority of the country approves of rolling back Bush's tax cuts to pay for a universal health care plan, which is what Edwards is proposing. In fact, according to a NY Times/CBS poll (see page 16) from late February, the exact number agreeing with this proposal was 76 percent.

April 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One other interesting take from the table is that the average respondents ideology rating (3.4) is closer to Giuliani (3.2), McCain (3.1) and Romney (3.0) than it is to any of the Democrats. It's also surprising that both Republicans and Democrats view HRC as more liberal than Nancy Pelosi.

April 27, 2007  
Anonymous Mike said...


Oh I agree, the majority of Americans will gladly pay higher taxes for something that is needed, like universal health care.

That being said, this early in the race Edwards could easily say he wants universal health care while leaving out that he would raise (or roll back tax cuts) to pay for it.

April 27, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...


It's important to note that the 3.4 ranking isn't the average respondent, but the average ranking of those respondents who identify themselves as Independents.

And it's true that the average Indie is closer to the three Republican candidates on the overall scale, but if you look at where Indies alone rank the candidates in relation to themselves, that's not always the case. The average Indie is ranked at 3.4, and the average spot for Edwards among the Indies is 3.9, which puts him closer than Romney -- who the Indies ranked as 2.8 -- and virtually just as close as McCain, who was ranked 3.0 by the Indies.

In other words, the GOP respondents very much skewed the ideology results for the Dem candidates. Re-reading my post, this is something I should've spent more time on in my analysis rather than just tossing it in at the end. If Dem respondents were equally as skewed about Republican candidates (or if GOP respondents weren't so skewed about Dem candidates), the results probably would still have the GOP candidates more toward the middle, but the difference wouldn't be nearly so stark.

And it's important not to forget the GOP candidates don't want that ideology in the middle tag. The real trick for the GOP candidates will be trying to get themselves as close as possible to the average Republican voter ranking of 2.6, while not completely abandoning their position among the middle. After all, the average Indie (3.4) is closer to the average Dem (4.0) than the average Republican (2.6). But I think as more people -- especially Indies -- hear the recent talk coming out of Giuliani, McCain, and Romney, they'll rethink where they put them on the scale.

And it's also important to remember that ideology, for many voters, is just one piece of the puzzle when deciding who to support. Other qualities like leadership ability and experience also play a role, as do the candidate's position on the top issues of the day. And the top issue for all voters is clearly Iraq, and, on that issue, the Indies tend to align much more closely with the Dems.

It's also curious that Hillary Clinton was rated as the most ideologically liberal candidate, even by Dems, yet when the poll takes a more closer look at where Clinton is getting her support (which is does in the extended version of the results, which are here), the strongest segment is coming from those who define themselves as conservative Democrats. This just goes to show how skewed Clinton's image has become in the public's perception after years of Clinton (both her and Bill) bashing. While she's certainly the most well-known of the Dem candidates, she's also probably the most misunderstood, at least in terms of where she stands on the political spectrum.


I've read some commentataries who say Edwards should've kept quiet about the tax increases, and I can see their point, but I think it's important to remember that a large part of the Edwards campaign is run ning on candor and honesty. If he didn't mention the tax increase, he would've been hammered on the "how are you going to pay for it?" question. I think he did the right thing by openly discussing funding, particularly considering his funding proposal is backed by 3/4 of the population. Edwards is wisely trying to "own" the health care issue as a way to differentiate himself from the other Dem candidates for the primaries, and discussing funding is an important piece of that task. If the other Dem candidates come out with a specific plan like Edwards, it will be just as important for them to come out with an equally specific plan for funding it.

April 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another way to look at how the Repugs are positioning the Dems is that they put the Dems they most fear farthest to the left. Meaning, their thinking starts with fear, and then they have to make the world fit that.

If they didn't do so, they would have to face that they are wrong and have been wrong since at least 1992.

Or they're canny enough to put to the farthest left those Dems they fear have the best chance of winning. But fear of dealing with cognitive dissonance probably beats canny.

April 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seth, you know a liberal is anyone more liberal than I am. Conversely, any one to the right of me is far right.


April 29, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

True, Dean. But what's most shocking in this poll is that while Republican repondents put Dem politicians far to the left, Dem repondents put GOP politicians in the exact same ideological position as Republican respondents.

April 30, 2007  

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