A new study out of England's University of Leicester has found that well-educated people often consider themselves more liberal than they truly are. Dr James Rockey, the political economics lecturer who led the research, concluded that college graduates were less able to recognize their own conservative tendencies than those who had left school at 16. Here's a concise guide to his findings:
How was the study conducted?
Rockey's data is based on surveys of 136,000 people in 48 countries, conducted between 1981 and 2008. Respondents were asked to rate themselves on a ten-point scale, with 1 being "left-wing" and 10 being "right-wing." The results were then compared with the subjects' responses to specific questions about their politics (for instance, how they think a country's collective wealth should be distributed), reports The Guardian, "to determine how closely the participants' own perception matched their real position on the ideological spectrum."
What exactly did the study find?
College graduates typically perceived themselves to be more liberal than their responses to Rockey's questions would suggest. Those whose formal education ended at 16 were arguably more self-aware when it came to accurately assessing their ideological leanings.
Why does Rockey think this happened?
He postulates two explanations: First, "that people compare themselves not to the population as a whole but to the people they know; and second, that real political preferences (as opposed to one's political self-image) "change over time." Someone who marched for left-wing causes in the 60s might still identify as a liberal, even if his current political views are quite conservative.
What are the limitations of the study?
Since it surveyed individuals from 48 countries, it doesn't specifically reflect the U.S. electorate's definitions of liberal and conservative. Hot Air's Allahpundit says that U.S. voters "are verrrrry reluctant to describe themselves as 'liberal.'" Only 22 percent applied that term to themselves in a 2008 survey, though election results show that a much larger percentage voted Democrat. But a larger problem is that words like "liberal" are highly subjective: Clearly, says Allahpundit, "political labels aren’t a pure function of policy choices but carry all sorts of cultural and emotional baggage with them."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why you shouldn't eat dog. Not even once.
- How U.S. special forces are preparing for the worst-case scenario in North Korea
- Why Israel can no longer let the Palestinian Authority be responsible for security in the West Bank
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why you should really take a nap this afternoon, according to science
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- How social conservatives became a minority in need of protection
- Grammar quiz: Do you know the passive voice?
- The 11 worst fast food restaurants in America
- Why charity can't solve society's deepest problems
Subscribe to the Week