Searching for Voters along the Liberal-Conservative Continuum: The Infrequent Ideologue and the Missing Middle

David E RePass 1
  • 1 University of Connecticut

This article presents a new method of measuring the ideological orientation of the American electorate, using four variables found in the American National Elections Studies. The measure is tested for validity by examining its relation to a list of fundamental beliefs that we would expect a liberal and a conservative to hold. The proportions of liberals, conservatives and middle-of-the-roaders among the electorate over the past several decades are delineated. Both ideological orientation and party identification are then examined to determine the extent to which both of these predispositions coexist among the electorate. As of 2004, only 7.4 percent of potential voters were found to be both strong conservatives and strong Republicans, while 3.2 percent were strong liberals and strong Democrats. The majority of the electorate had neither strong predisposition. This majority should not be considered middle-of-the-roaders since they have little or no cognizance of the liberal-conservative continuum. The implications of these findings for party and candidate strategies, as well as for the assumption that voters need an ideological orientation in order to make sophisticated decisions, are discussed.

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