Quantifying Political Ideology

From 1994 to 2015, Pew Research Center conducted surveys to score respondents on a 10-point ideological scale and measure opinions about controversial issues. The view on the right shows squares representing the number of people at each point on the scale. Boxes are colored according to political party identification. Hover on any box to see an alternate view of score distributions.

The first survey, conducted in 1994, shows many people occupying the "middle ground" - a purple region with a broad mix of ideologies among both parties. The overall average was slightly right-of-center, with the median Republican and Democratic responses sitting 2-3 points from that average.

Note: this visualization and discussions are not affiliated with Pew Research Center. Readers are encouraged to view source material to evaluate these conclusions.


Where do you fit on the scale?

As we review how ideology has changed over time, we need to understand how these scores are developed. Answering the same questions given by Pew will give you a sense for how the scores are calculated while showing you where you fit on the left/right scale. Each set of statements is meant to identify you with either a conservative or liberal view of our society. While this scale may not be a perfect measure, the survey’s consistency makes it useful to compare shifts over time.

For each row, move the slider toward the statement that matches your opinion. As you choose each one, notice how the dot moves along the bottom. Every answer agreeing with one side moves you closer to that side of the ideological scale. If you do not agree with either statement, it’s okay to leave the slider in the middle. Many survey respondents abstain from one or more answers, which is the only way to have an odd number as the overall score.

When you have answered all the questions, go back and see how your answers match those of the survey participants. The bubbles on each side give you the percentage of people who agreed with each statement in 2014 (the most recent year in which Pew offers full survey details).


Polarization's Consequences 

When they look at a political system in which little seems to get done, most Americans in the center of the electorate think that Obama and Republican leaders should simply meet each other halfway in addressing the issues facing the nation.

Yet an equitable deal is in the eye of the beholder, as both liberals and conservatives define the optimal political outcome as one in which their side gets more of what it wants. A majority of consistent conservatives (57%) say the ideal agreement between President Obama and congressional Republicans is one in which GOP leaders hold out for more of their goals. Consistent liberals take the opposite view: Their preferred terms (favored by 62%) end up closer to Obama’s position than the GOP’s.

Growing Divisions

John Adams warned that political polarization would be damaging to the Republic.  Do you think he was right?


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