Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

November 5, 2009 11:58 AM

Who We Are

The dominant ideological group in the United States, based on self- identification, is conservatives. 40% of respondents identify themselves that way. Since 1992 there were two other years, 2003 and 2004, when self-described conservatives were the dominant ideological group. For most of that period, "moderates" were marginally at the top of the heap. Today, 36% describe themselves that way. Liberals have trailed since at least 1992. The high points for liberals were in 2007 and 2008 when 22% of Americans described themselves in that way. [Gallup]

In the October NBC/WSJ survey, 30% described themselves as Democrats and 17% as Republicans. 44% are Indepenents (13 points lean Dem/14% points lean GOP). 9% picked another description or were not sure.

Who are the Democrats, Republicans and Independents ideologically? Who are the liberals, moderates and conservatives on a Party partisan basis?

Those questions should be pretty easy to answer. You run tabs for the one against the other, and it is done. However, it turns out it is not so easy. First, you have to decide how you are going to define the parameters of each of the partisan choices.

For example, if you include within the group of Republicans those Independents who "lean" Republican, and within the group of Democrats those Independents who "lean" Democratic, because that is how they tend to vote, then Independents (including those who do not answer) account for 26% of the electorate. However, if you lump together all of the folks who say they are Independents, and do not look to how they "lean", then Independents represent 52% of the electorate.

To fully calculate whether Independent "leaners" should be included as Democrats or Republicans, one would analyze the two leaning groups and see to what extent they look like those who are totally part of one partisan group or the other. That analysis is beyond the energy of the WW.

Here is the partisan/ideological split, using the broadest definition of Independents. [October NBC/WSJ]

Democrats - 30% of the electorate

  • 47% liberal
  • 36% moderate
  • 14% conservative

Independents - 52% of the electorate

  • 18% liberal
  • 36% moderate
  • 37% conservative

Republicans - 17% of the electorate

  • 6% liberal
  • 24% moderate
  • 69% conservative

The partisan/ideological split, including "leaners" with the partisan group to which they lean, looks like this

Democrats - 43% of the electorate

  • 43% liberal
  • 40% moderate
  • 14% conservative

Independents - 26% of the electorate

  • 14% liberal
  • 40% moderate
  • 38% conservative

Republicans - 31% of the electorate

  • 6% liberal
  • 25% moderate
  • 67% conservative

Finally, here is a look at the ideological/partisan split including Independent "leaners" with the partisan group to which they lean


  • 75% Democratic
  • 17% Independent
  • 8% Republican


  • 51% Democratic
  • 26% Independent
  • 23% Republican


  • 17% Democratic
  • 32% Independent
  • 60% Republican

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