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Winds of political change haven't shifted public's ideology balance

Staff Report • Nov 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

The Democratic Party's advantage in party identification has widened over the past two decades, but the share of Americans who describe their political views as liberal, conservative or moderate has remained stable during the same period. Only about one-in-five Americans currently call themselves liberal (21%), while 38% say they are conservative and 36% describe themselves as moderate. This is virtually unchanged from recent years; when George W. Bush was first elected president, 18% of Americans said they were liberal, 36% were conservative and 38% considered themselves moderate.1

Young people are considerably more likely than older Americans to describe their political views as liberal. About the same number of those younger than age 30 say they are liberal (27%) as say they are conservative (30%). The ideological gap is much wider among older Americans; 50 to 64 year-olds are more than twice as likely to describe themselves as conservative (41%) than as liberal (19%), and those age 65 and older are three times more likely to say they are conservative (45% vs. 15% liberal).

Ideological ratings also vary significantly by education. Four-in-ten Americans with graduate degrees say they are politically moderate, while about three-in-ten say they are either liberal or conservative (29% each). Among those with no more than a high school education, a third says they are moderate, 41% describe themselves as conservative and fewer than one-in-five call themselves liberal (18%).

Still, ideological labels do not always predict opinions about key policy issues. For example, about half of Americans who describe their political views as conservative say that all (24%) or some (27%) of the tax cuts passed under George W. Bush should be repealed. More than four-in-ten conservatives (43%) say that abortion should be legal in some or all cases. On the other hand, nearly half of self-described liberals (49%) favor more offshore drilling for oil and gas in U.S. waters.

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