Politics

Many Americans Use Multiple Labels to Describe Their Ideology

No strong preference for label "progressive" instead of "liberal"

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A recent Gallup Panel survey explored Americans' familiarity with, and orientation to, six different terms that describe Americans' political viewpoints -- conservative, liberal, libertarian, moderate, populist, and progressive. Americans are most familiar with the terms conservative, liberal, and moderate, and are relatively unfamiliar with the terms progressive, libertarian, and populist.

Many Americans who choose one of the basic labels -- conservative, moderate, or liberal -- to describe their ideology also choose another label when given a chance. This is particularly the case for those who describe their views as moderate. A majority of Americans say the terms conservative and moderate apply to them personally. Thirty-four percent of Americans say the term liberal applies to them, while 28% say the term progressive applies. No more than 1 in 10 Americans say the terms libertarian or populist applies. Roughly equal percentages of Americans, about one in five, describe their own political views as liberal or progressive, and these respondents show a slight preference for calling themselves a liberal rather than a progressive, though most say it does not matter.

Political Terminology

The Nov. 27-29, 2006, poll asked Americans about their familiarity with six terms that could be used to describe political views in this country. Americans are most familiar with the terms conservative, liberal, and moderate, and least familiar with the term populist.

Familiarity With Political Terminology
Nov. 27-29, 2006


Very familiar


Somewhat familiar

Very/
somewhat familiar


Not too familiar

Not familiar
at all

%

%

%

%

%

Conservative

59

33

92

5

3

Liberal

58

32

90

7

3

Moderate

42

41

83

11

6

Progressive

22

37

59

24

16

Libertarian

20

36

56

27

16

Populist

12

27

39

34

27

Gallup also asked Americans whether or not each of the six terms applies to them.

As the graph shows, a majority of Americans say the terms conservative (54%) and moderate (53%) apply to them. Thirty-four percent of Americans say the term liberal applies to them, and 28% say the term progressive applies to them. Roughly 1 in 10 Americans say the terms libertarian or populist applies to them.

Not surprisingly, these results differ when analyzed by Gallup's standard political ideology identification measure, which asks respondents to choose whether they are liberal, moderate, or conservative.

Percentage Saying Term Applies to Them
by Self-Described Political Ideology
Nov. 27-29, 2006


Conservatives


Moderates

Liberals/
progressives

%

%

%

Conservative

92

39

14

Liberal

8

36

85

Libertarian

9

10

15

Moderate

39

73

48

Populist

5

7

12

Progressive

14

30

57

The vast majority of those who identify as conservative using the standard three-part measure (92%) not surprisingly also say the conservative label applies to them when it is read as one of six different labels. Thirty-nine percent also say the moderate label applies.

Among those who identify as moderates using the standard three-part measure, 73% say the moderate label applies to them, with 39% also saying that the conservative label applies, 36% saying the liberal label applies, and 30% saying the progressive label applies. In other words, it appears that the term "moderate" is so general that many Americans claim it for themselves, while at the same time identifying with other more specific labels for their ideology.

Eighty-five percent of those who identify as liberals using the standard three-part measure say the liberal label applies to them. A majority of liberals (57%) also say the progressive label applies to them, and nearly half (48%) say the moderate label applies.

It is not surprising to find that people who choose a label for themselves in one context within the survey tend to choose the same label when read in a different context. What is of interest is the degree to which Americans -- when given a choice -- choose multiple ideological labels for themselves. Much as the census bureau has decided that many Americans need to use multiple race and ethnicity labels to describe themselves, these data suggest that Americans may view themselves as fitting into several ideological "boxes" rather than just one.

Progressive or Liberal Preference?

There have been some indications in the political world that those on the left end of the political spectrum are trying to move away from the "liberal" label and toward the perhaps more appealing "progressive" label. To get a sense of whether this is the case among the general public with a left-leaning orientation, the poll conducted a split sample experiment. Gallup asked one half of respondents to choose whether their political views were conservative, moderate, or liberal, and asked the other half to choose whether their political views were conservative, moderate, or progressive. Here are the question wordings for each:

  • (Form A) How would you describe your political views -- [ROTATED: very conservative, conservative, moderate, liberal, (or) very liberal]?
  • (Form B) How would you describe your political views -- [ROTATED: very conservative, conservative, moderate, progressive, (or) very progressive]?

The results show that roughly the same percentage of Americans describe their political views as liberal (22%) as do progressive (19%). However, there are hints that Americans may be more likely to describe their political views as conservative (42%) and less likely to say they are moderate (33%) when the liberal option is offered than when the term progressive is offered (36% say they are conservatives and 43% moderates in the progressive construction).

Description of Political Views
Nov. 27-29, 2006

Form A

Form B

%

%

Very conservative

7

Very conservative

8

Conservative

35

Conservative

28

Moderate

33

Moderate

43

Liberal

16

Progressive

14

Very liberal

6

Very progressive

5

No opinion

3

No opinion

2

 

 

Total conservative

42

Total conservative

36

Moderate

33

Moderate

43

Total liberal

22

Total progressive

19

Gallup also asked moderates if they lean more toward describing themselves as a conservative or more as a liberal or progressive. These results show that moderates are slightly more likely to say they lean liberal (19%) than lean conservative (13%), but are equally likely to lean conservative (19%) as to lean progressive (20%).

Description of Political Views
Nov. 27-29, 2006

Form A

Form B

%

%

Conservative

42

Conservative

37

Moderate, lean conservative

13

Moderate, lean conservative

19

Moderate, no lean

4

Moderate, no lean

6

Moderate, lean liberal

19

Moderate, lean progressive

20

Liberal

22

Progressive

18

Americans who describe their political views as liberal, progressive, or moderate but leaning toward either liberal or progressive were then asked if they had a preference for calling themselves liberals or progressives, or if it did not matter to them.

The results show a slight preference for being called a liberal (25%) rather than a progressive (18%), but a majority (56%) says it does not matter to them. When asked if they had to choose between the terms liberal or progressive, a total of 50% say they would choose liberal, while 44% would choose progressive and 6% would not make a choice

Survey Methods

Results for this panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,003 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 27-29, 2006. Respondents were randomly drawn from Gallup's nationally representative household panel, which was originally recruited through random selection methods. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 364 adults who describe their political views as liberal, liberal leaning, progressive, or progressive leaning, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/25771/many-americans-use-multiple-labels-describe-their-ideology.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030