August 23, 2016

Partisans see opposing party as more ideological than their own

Political parties’ ideological stances are in the eye of the beholder: Republicans and Democrats see the opposite party as more ideologically extreme than their own, which they tend to consider more moderate.

In a recent Pew Research Center study of political animosity, respondents were asked to rate themselves and both political parties on an 11-point ideological scale, ranging from very liberal to very conservative.

Members of both parties most commonly place the other party on the extreme end of the scale. Among Democrats, 34% placed the GOP at the most conservative point. Even more Republicans – 45% – put the Democratic Party at the liberal extreme.

Majorities in both parties view the other party as closer to the ideological extreme than the center. Nearly six-in-ten Democrats (58%) place the Republican Party at one of the three most conservative points on the scale (0-2), while 69% of Republicans place the Democratic Party on the most liberal points (8-10).

Meanwhile, partisans consider their own party to be less ideological. While most Republicans place the GOP on the conservative side of the scale, only 36% rate it as very conservative (0-2 on the scale). Similarly, most Democrats view their own party as liberal but just 33% rate it at the most liberal points on the scale (8-10).

Those surveyed also placed themselves on the ideological spectrum, indicating where they see themselves ideologically relative to their own party. Many Americans say they fit imperfectly with their own party’s ideology.

Among Republicans, 71% place themselves at least one point away from where they place the GOP on an ideological scale of zero to 10. They are more likely to consider themselves to the right of the party than its left. More than four-in-ten Republicans (44%) identify as more conservative than their party, with 19% putting themselves at least three points to the right. Fewer Republicans (28%) rate themselves as more liberal than the GOP.

Democrats, meanwhile, are about evenly divided. Slightly more (35%) say they are more liberal than their party than say they are more conservative (30%).

In line with earlier findings that the most ideologically consistent voters are also the most politically engaged, Americans who see themselves as more ideological than their party are more likely to be thinking a lot about the 2016 election.

Among Republicans who identify as more conservative than the GOP, more than three-quarters (79%) say they have given a lot of thought to the 2016 election. Republicans with similar or more liberal views relative to their party are less invested: 64% of those ideologically aligned with the GOP have given the campaign a lot of thought, along with 62% of Republicans more liberal than their party.

Democrats show a similar pattern. Among those who position themselves as more liberal than the Democratic Party, 62% have given a lot of thought to the upcoming election. About half (52%) of those who are ideologically in line with the party say the same, along with 40% of those more conservative than the party.

Topics: U.S. Political Parties, Political Attitudes and Values, Political Polarization, 2016 Election

  1. is an intern at the Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Jocelyn Kiley

    is an associate director of research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous12 months ago

    One confounding variable in these partisanship data is not knowing what the respondents think “conservative” and “liberal” mean. Both terms are used to mean just about anything, which means they can mean everything, and, therefore, they mean nothing. What we need is an authentic liberal and an authentic conservative on the national stage (and there has been neither for easily five decades) so people can get in touch with the philosophical, political, and economic ground on which a conservative and a liberal stands. As the data show, C and L have become politically partisan, which means respondents likely confuse conservative with republican and liberal with democrat.

  2. Edward Devotion12 months ago

    Confirmation of the paradox studied by Diana Mutz a decade ago.…

  3. Amy R Sheon12 months ago

    What an important topic that I’ve not seen addressed previously. Thanks Pew for all hte great work you do! And kudos to Mr. Krislov and Ms. Kiley on a terrific piece!