Political Labels: Majorities of U.S. Adults Have a Sense of What Conservative, Liberal, Right Wing or Left Wing Means, But Many Do Not

    ROCHESTER, N.Y., Feb. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- Journalists, political activists,
 and many others routinely use political labels to describe politicians and
 policies as conservative or liberal, right-wing or left-wing. A new Harris
 Poll measures what a cross-section of U.S. adults understand by these and
 other labels.
     Most people, it appears, understand these labels in pretty much the same
 way political pundits do. Large majorities believe that conservatives favor
 moral values, cutting taxes, and oppose same-sex marriage, gay rights, and
 abortion rights. Majorities believe liberals favor abortion rights, gay
 rights, same-sex marriages, and affirmative action. But substantial numbers of
 people don't know where conservatives and liberals stand on those and other
 issues. And some people seem to completely misunderstand these labels.
     These are the results of a new Harris Poll of 2,209 U.S. adults surveyed
 online by Harris Interactive(R) between January 11 and 16, 2005.
 
     Perception of Conservatives
     While most people gave the expected answers, substantial minorities think
 that conservatives oppose cutting taxes (19%) or are not sure (11%) whether
 they favor or oppose cutting taxes. In other words, 30 percent of all adults
 do not give the expected response that conservatives favor cutting taxes.
 Similarly:
 
      * 50 percent believe that conservatives support gun control or are not
        sure.
 
      * 46 percent think that conservatives support affirmative action or are
        not sure.
 
      * 23 percent think that conservatives support abortion rights or are not
        sure.
 
      * 19 percent think that conservatives support gay rights or are not sure.
 
      * 15 percent believe conservatives support same-sex marriage or are not
        sure.
 
     Perception of Liberals
     While large majorities believe liberals favor abortion rights, gay rights,
 and same-sex marriage, substantiated minorities give more surprising
 responses:
 
      * Fully 39 percent believe liberals favor cutting taxes, and 17 percent
        are not sure.
 
      * Fully 37 percent believe that liberals either oppose gun control (24%)
        or are not sure (13%).
 
      * Significant but smaller numbers do not believe or are not sure if
        liberals support gun control (37%), affirmative action (26%), same-sex
        marriage (22%), gay rights (17%), or abortion rights (16%).
 
     Perception of Right Wing and Left Wing
     As one would expect, many people think that right-wingers support and
 oppose policies in ways which are similar to the positions of conservatives.
 But the label right wing is less clear to many people than conservative. More
 people don't know what the phrase means with between 20 and 27 percent saying
 they are not sure whether a right-winger would support or oppose each of the
 seven policy positions.
     The majorities who give the expected answers (e.g. the 59 percent who say
 that right-wingers support cutting taxes) are about 10 points lower than those
 who give the expected answers when describing conservatives.
 
     Likewise, the label left-winger is broadly perceived to be similar to
 liberal except that more people are not sure what it means.
 
     Perception of Moderates and Independents
     Unsurprisingly, perceptions of moderates and independents fall between
 those of conservatives and liberals and between right and left-wingers. But
 there are some interesting, possibly surprising findings.
     Moderates for example are seen by many people to resemble conservatives in
 supporting moral values and tax cuts but to resemble liberals in supporting
 abortion rights, gun control and gay rights. Smaller numbers, but still
 pluralities, believe that independents favor tax cuts, abortion rights,
 affirmative action, gay rights, gun control and same sex marriage.
     Overall, therefore, people are more likely to see moderates and
 independents as resembling liberals than resembling conservatives.
 
     Harris Interactive is indebted to the distinguished social scientist, Leo
 Bogart, who suggested that we measure what political labels mean to people.
 After reviewing these findings, Bogart, commented that, "The confusion over
 what the widely used political labels actually mean reflects their common use
 as epithets rather than as true descriptions of people's beliefs. Those
 beliefs are often inconsistent and self-contradictory, because Americans don't
 adhere to a party line or doctrine that provides ready answers to all
 questions. We may be "conservative" on some issues and "liberal" on others,
 but it's the specifics that
 matter, not the labels."
 
 
                                    TABLE 1
                          PERCEPTIONS OF CONSERVATIVES
  "Thinking now of the political climate in the United States, do you think of
              conservatives as people who support or oppose ... ?"
 
     Base: All adults
                               Support        Oppose    Not Sure
      Moral values        %         78        10        12
      Cutting taxes       %         70        19        11
      Gun control         %         40        50        10
      Affirmative action  %         26        54        20
      Abortion rights     %         13        77        10
      Gay rights          %         8         81        11
      Same-sex marriage   %         8         85        7
 
 
                                       TABLE 2
                            PERCEPTIONS OF LIBERALS
  "Thinking now of the political climate in the United States, do you think of
                liberals as people who support or oppose ... ?"
 
     Base: All adults
                               Support        Oppose         Not Sure
      Abortion rights     %         84        6              10
      Gay rights          %         82        7              10
      Same-sex marriage   %         78        9              13
      Affirmative action  %         74        9              17
      Gun control         %         63        24             13
      Moral values        %         54        28             18
      Cutting taxes       %         39        44             17
 
     Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.
 
 
 TABLE 3
                          PERCEPTIONS OF RIGHT-WINGERS
  "Thinking now of the political climate in the United States, do you think of
              right-wingers as people who support or oppose ... ?"
 
     Base: All adults
                               Support        Oppose         Not Sure
      Moral values        %         61        14             25
      Cutting taxes       %         59        17             24
      Gun control         %         35        42             23
      Affirmative action  %         27        46             27
      Abortion rights     %         15        63             22
      Gay rights          %         15        65             21
      Same-sex marriage   %         10        69             20
 
     Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.
 
 
                                    TABLE 4
                          PERCEPTIONS OF LEFT-WINGERS
  "Thinking now of the political climate in the United States, do you think of
              left-wingers as people who support or oppose ... ?"
 
     Base: All adults
                               Support        Oppose         Not Sure
      Gay rights          %         64        18             19
      Abortion rights     %         61        18             20
      Same-sex marriage   %         59        21             20
      Affirmative action  %         59        15             26
      Gun control         %         50        29             21
      Moral values        %         40        29             31
      Cutting taxes       %         30        45             25
 
     Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.
 
 
                                    TABLE 5
                            PERCEPTIONS OF MODERATES
  "Thinking now of the political climate in the United States, do you think of
                moderates as people who support or oppose ... ?"
 
     Base: All adults
                               Support        Oppose         Not Sure
      Moral values        %         68        6              26
      Cutting taxes       %         53        16             30
      Affirmative action  %         51        15             34
      Abortion rights     %         50        19             31
      Gun control         %         47        21             32
      Gay rights          %         44        26             30
      Same-sex marriage   %         26        43             31
 
     Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.
 
 
                                    TABLE 6
                          PERCEPTIONS OF INDEPENDENTS
  "Thinking now of the political climate in the United States, do you think of
              independents as people who support or oppose ... ?"
 
     Base: All adults
                               Support        Oppose         Not Sure
      Moral values        %         52        6              41
      Cutting taxes       %         48        10             42
      Abortion rights     %         45        13             42
      Affirmative action  %         42        11             48
      Gay rights          %         40        18             42
      Gun control         %         36        21             43
      Same-sex marriage   %         34        23             42
 
     Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.
 
 
     Methodology
     The Harris Poll(R) was conducted online within the United States between
 January 11 and 16, 2005 among a nationwide cross section of 2,209 adults aged
 18 and over. Figures for age, sex, race, education, region and household
 income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual
 proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to
 adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.
     In theory, with probability samples of this size, one could say with 95
 percent certainty that the results have a sampling error of plus or minus 2
 percentage points. Unfortunately, there are several other possible sources of
 error in all polls or surveys that are probably more serious than theoretical
 calculations of sampling error. They include refusals to be interviewed (non-
 response), question wording and question order, and weighting. It is
 impossible to quantify the errors that may result from these factors. This
 online sample is not a probability sample.
 
     These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National
 Council on Public Polls.
 
     About Harris Interactive(R)
     Harris Interactive Inc. (http://www.harrisinteractive.com ), the 15th
 largest and fastest-growing market research firm in the world, is a Rochester,
 N.Y.-based global research company that blends premier strategic consulting
 with innovative and efficient methods of investigation, analysis and
 application. Known for The Harris Poll(R) and for pioneering Internet-based
 research methods, Harris Interactive conducts proprietary and public research
 to help its clients achieve clear, material and enduring results.
     Harris Interactive combines its intellectual capital, databases and
 technology to advance market leadership through U.S. offices and wholly owned
 subsidiaries: London-based HI Europe (http://www.hieurope.com), Paris-based
 Novatris (http://www.novatris.com), Tokyo-based Harris Interactive Japan,
 through newly acquired WirthlinWorldwide, a Reston, Virginia-based research
 and consultancy firm ranked 25th largest in the world, and through an
 independent global network of affiliate market research companies. EOE
 M/F/D/V.
 
     To become a member of the Harris Poll Online(SM) and be invited to
 participate in future online surveys, visit http://www.harrispollonline.com .
 
      Press Contacts:
 
      Nancy Wong
      Harris Interactive
      585-214-7316
 
      Kelly Gullo
      Harris Interactive
      585-214-7172
 
 

SOURCE Harris Interactive

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