Comparing Opinions and Preferences Across States and Regions: The Fallacy of Using Ideological Responses
36 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 31 Aug 2010
Date Written: 2010
We are interested in differences in ideology and preferences on policies across red and blue states, and across people who say they are liberals versus conservatives. We make several points about measurement of ideology and issue preferences, all in the context of ‘polarization’. First, the use of ideology for measuring polarization is quite dangerous as the typical ideology question has no fixed scale – allowing respondents to interpret it quite differ- ently across regions or groups. Second, ideology also has a potential dimensionality problem: it is fundamentally a projection of many dimensions (or issues) onto one dimension, thus allowing respondents to weight lower level dimensions differently across regions or groups. Taken together, this suggests that an electorate may be polarized on some issues, but not on other issues. This could be because the issues exist on distinct dimensions. Or, we could find issues that lie on the same dimensions, but some are simply more discriminating than others. In such cases, ‘polarization’ would exist on the more discriminating issue, but not on the less-discriminating issue. Thus polarization, in the absence of a clear definition, will likely to continue to exist in the eye of the beholder.
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