Ideological extremes and countertrends

Yesterday I posted about Pew’s political data and their 10-item issue-based ideology measure, splitting the entire sample into mutually exclusive sub-groups to show the major demographic patterns. Today, I push the data: Where are the extremes and countertrends?

In yesterday’s effort, I split a roughly 16,000 person sample into 9 sub-groups. That was a really safe exercise. Today I look at smaller slices of the sample—typically around 200 or 300 people per group. So, take it with a grain of salt, folks. The margins of error in yesterday’s results were narrow; today they’re wider. The results are in the chart below.


Yesterday, the most liberal group was non-Christians with 4-year degrees, while the most conservative group was white born-again/evangelical Christians with incomes above $40,000. Within these groups, where are the extremes? The results are the top and bottom groups in the chart. Limit the non-Christians with 4-year degrees to atheists with 4-year degrees, and the result is a flabbergastingly liberal group. On Pew’s 10-issue measure, the typical college-educated atheist chooses the liberal side on at least 9 of the 10 items. On the conservative side, take those white born-again/evangelical Christians with incomes above $40,000, then get rid of the young folks, women, non-Southerners, and those with graduate degrees, and the small group remaining is almost as conservative as educated atheists are liberal.

I also tried a couple of alternate searches for super-liberals and super-conservatives. If we don’t allow the atheist distinction, there’s still a ridiculously liberal group (second on the chart) to be found in non-Christian white women with graduate degrees. On the conservative side, even ignoring the self-claimed “born again or evangelical” distinction, we can still reach practically the same level of super-conservatism by looking at (second from the bottom on the chart) white non-Catholic Christians who go to church more than once a week and are non-poor, have been married at some point, live in the South, and haven’t been to grad school.

I also searched for some countertrends. Christians are usually pretty conservative, but where can we find Christians with especially liberal political views? A quite liberal group includes Black Christians who don’t identify as “born again or evangelical” and who have 4-year college degrees (third on the chart). Non-Christians are usually quite liberal, but where are some of the least liberal non-Christians? A good combination here involves non-atheist white men who are past their 20s and have never been to college (fourth on the chart).

Where are some of the least liberal non-whites? Check out (fifth on the chart) native-born Hispanics and Asians who are born again/evangelical Christians with incomes above $50,000—they’re not nearly as conservative as their white (non-Hispanic) analogues, but pretty not-so-liberal for a non-white group. (On that last point, we found something similar using General Social Survey data in The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind (p. 158): “One can find Latino conservatives—the best places to look are among heterosexual, churchgoing Protestants with middle-of-the-road educations and high incomes, and whose families have not recently immigrated.”)

A final note on ideological extremes. I’ve pointed out (e.g., here) that the Christian/non-Christian divide is becoming a pervasively big deal across all sorts of political issues, particularly for college-educated whites. You can really see that in yesterday’s and today’s results. It’s not-at-all mysterious to me that people (like atheists) who are really disliked by much of the public would worry about discrimination and thus be super-liberal on issues relating to discrimination against themselves. But why have they recently moved to being liberal on everything? Why the move on tax-and-spend issues, for example? Other big Democratic groups haven’t moved into practically all-liberal positions. Black Christians haven’t (though, as we just saw, the college-educated who aren’t born-again/evangelical are getting closer). Union members haven’t. Why are non-Christian whites with college educations currently so keen to adopt almost all the positions of their Democratic coalition partners when there are so few examples of other demographic groups that do the same? Is it that everyone tends to adopt their coalition partners’ views, but that some folks’ relative lack of political information gets in the way of knowing what range of positions to adopt? Is ideological alignment just lip service, such that when push comes to shove, e.g., rich atheists wouldn’t really favor robust income redistribution? I really don’t know.