(CN) – Republicans and Democrats generally see members of the opposing party as being on the far ends of the political spectrum, according to a Pew Research Center study published Thursday.
In a survey of more than 4,500 adults between July 30 and August 12, a majority of Republican respondents (55 percent) said that on a scale of zero to 10, Democrats are “very liberal” (zero), with a statistical mean of 1.5.
While Democrats viewed Republicans as more conservative than they viewed themselves (7.4 versus 7.1, respectively), the metrics matched more closely on Republican optics. Democratic respondents most consistently put themselves around a 3.9 on the scale – a difference of 2.4 compared to Republican respondents’ characterizations of them.
These perceptions have shifted in the last two years, according to historical data in the new survey.
Republican respondents viewed Democrats as growing more liberal, and shifted their ranking 0.6 points on the scale from 2.1 in 2016. Republicans also seemed to acknowledge their own ideological shift in the era of President Donald Trump – they put themselves at a 6.6 in 2016, but shifted to 7.1 on the scale this year.
In contrast, Democrats viewed themselves as growing more conservative in the past two years, but only by 0.1 points on the scale from 3.8 in 2016 to 3.9 in the new survey. Though Democratic respondents also shifted their view of Republican ideology in the past two years, the shifts were less drastic than their Republican counterparts.
As Pew researchers noted in the analysis, “The 11-point scale results in a somewhat different picture of the public’s ideological leanings than a commonly used survey measure that asks whether people describe their political views as very conservative, conservative, moderate, liberal or very liberal.”
In essence, it gave respondents the ability to gauge their own political leanings with more precision than the five options in a traditional survey of this type.
Researchers also stratified the data by age, sex and education, which revealed results fairly typical of such surveys – conservatism’s roots lie in a lower level of education and increased age.
Respondents 65 and older rated themselves as a 5.8 on the scale on average, and those with a high school diploma or less rated themselves as a 5.9.
In contrast, respondents between 18 and 49 years old rated themselves as a
4.6 on average, and those with a post-graduate education rated themselves as a 4.2.
Notably, these two demographics had the lowest percentage of “very conservative” answers, at 14 percent of the youngest age bracket and 16 percent of the highest education bracket.
Americans over 65 appeared to be the most polarized of any demographic, with only 14 percent giving themselves an even 5 on the scale.
Though this oldest age bracket had the highest number of “very conservative” answers, more respondents in that category labeled themselves as “very liberal” (21
percent) than the next-oldest bracket of 50 to 64 (18 percent).
However, according to the survey data, the increased polarization primarily lies in admittedly partisan respondents. Independent voters who leaned Republican tended to view the Democratic Party as more moderate than their partisan counterparts by a 0.8 margin. Similarly, Republican leaners labeled the GOP as slightly more moderate than Republican respondents at 6.6 versus 7.1 on the scale, respectively.
Democratic leaners fell closer in line with their partisan counterparts – on average, they put the Democratic Party at a 3.7, whereas Democratic respondents rated their party at 3.9. Democrats and leaners both put the Republican Party at a 7.4 average rating, though the scores tilted more toward the middle for Democratic leaners.
Overall, the data lines up with anecdotal perceptions of the national discourse – that American voters are moving into their respective ideological corners during a time of increasingly divided politics.
Republican candidates for Congress and the U.S. Senate across the country have tried to align themselves closely with President Trump, who employs an unapologetically conservative approach to national issues.
Inversely, the rise of democratic socialists in the Democratic Party has increased liberal visibility in national politics, from Independent U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential run with the Democratic Party in 2016 to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise upset in New York’s 14th Congressional District primary against incumbent Joe Crowley in June.
In short, candidates and voices on the far ends of the ideological spectrum have enjoyed increased visibility in the last two years, which could help explain the newest Pew survey results. Nonetheless, the conventional wisdom about Americans’ adherence to ideological moderation seemed to hold overall, if only on an individual basis.