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Is the Left-Right Scale a Valid Measure of Ideology? Individual-Level Variation in Associations with 'Left' and 'Right' and Left-Right Self-Placement

Bauer, P. C., Barberá, P., Ackermann, K., & Venetz, A. (2015). Is the Left-Right Scale a Valid Measure of Ideology?. Political Behavior, 1-31. doi:10.1007/s11109-016-9368-2

Posted: 18 Jul 2014 Last revised: 7 Nov 2016

Paul C. Bauer

Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (MZES)

Pablo Barbera

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics

Kathrin Ackermann

University of Bern

Aaron Venetz

University of Bern - Institute of Political Science

Date Written: July 31, 2015

Abstract

In order to measure ideology, political scientists heavily rely on the so-called left-right scale. Left and right are, however, abstract political concepts and may trigger different associations among respondents. If these associations vary systematically with other variables this may induce bias in the empirical study of ideology. We illustrate this problem using a unique survey that asked respondents open-ended questions regarding the meanings they attribute to the concepts “left” and “right”. We assess and categorize this textual data using topic modeling techniques. Our analysis shows that variation in respondents’ associations is systematically related to their self-placement on the left-right scale and also to variables such as education and respondents’ cultural background (East vs. West Germany). Our findings indicate that the interpersonal comparability of the left-right scale across individuals is impaired. More generally, our study suggests that we need more research on how respondents interpret various abstract concepts that we regularly use in survey questions.

Keywords: Left-right scale, Ideology, Left, Right, Survey measurement, Interpersonal comparability, Measurement equivalence

Suggested Citation

Bauer, Paul C. and Barbera, Pablo and Ackermann, Kathrin and Venetz, Aaron, Is the Left-Right Scale a Valid Measure of Ideology? Individual-Level Variation in Associations with 'Left' and 'Right' and Left-Right Self-Placement (July 31, 2015). Bauer, P. C., Barberá, P., Ackermann, K., & Venetz, A. (2015). Is the Left-Right Scale a Valid Measure of Ideology?. Political Behavior, 1-31. doi:10.1007/s11109-016-9368-2. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2467595 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2467595

Paul C. Bauer (Contact Author)

Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (MZES) ( email )

Germany

Pablo Barbera

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics ( email )

19 W 4th St, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012
United States

Kathrin Ackermann

University of Bern ( email )

Aaron Venetz

University of Bern - Institute of Political Science ( email )

Lerchenweg 36
Bern 9, 3000
Switzerland

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