How Polarized are Citizens? Measuring Ideology from the Ground-Up
73 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2018
Date Written: April 2, 2018
Strong evidence has been emerging that major democracies have become more politically polarized, at least according to measures based on the ideological positions of political elites. We ask: have the general public ('citizens') followed the same pattern? Our approach is based on unsupervised machine learning models as applied to issue-position survey data. This approach firstly indicates that coherent, latent ideologies are strongly apparent in the data, with a number of major, stable types that we label as: Liberal Centrist, Conservative Centrist, Left Anarchist and Right Anarchist. Using this framework, and a resulting measure of 'citizen slant', we are then able to decompose the shift in ideological positions across the population over time. Specifically, we find evidence of a 'disappearing center' in a range of countries with citizens shifting away from centrist ideologies into anti-establishment 'anarchist' ideologies over time. This trend is especially pronounced for the US.
Keywords: Polarization, Ideology, Unsupervised Learning
JEL Classification: D72, C81
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation