The Washington Post

Conservatives embrace their label. But liberals? Not so much.

Conservatives really like being called conservatives. But liberals are not nearly as eager to be labeled liberals.

Those are a couple of the findings in a new and extensive Pew Research Center survey conducted over two months earlier this year. The survey is fresh evidence that while liberals are on the rise, the "liberal" label still carries some negative connotations, even among those with liberal political philosophies.

Pew did two things:

  1. It classified respondents using a 10 question scale to determine where they fall on the political spectrum.
  2. It asked them how they identify themselves politically.

More than eight out of 10 (84 percent) of those who tested as "consistently conservative" identified as conservative. But only about six out of 10 (62 percent) of those who tested as "consistently liberal" identified as "liberal."

Among those who tested as "mostly liberal," 32 percent identified as liberals. That's only about half the percentage of "mostly conservative" respondents who self-identified as conservative (61 percent).


Liberal has long been a less popular moniker, leading some Democrats to adopt the amorphous “progressive” descriptor. Republicans tend to use "liberal" derisively more than Democrats use "conservative" as a negative term, though there are exceptions.

Overall,  more Americans identify as conservative than liberal, by a 36 percent to 23 percent margin.

The good news for the left is that labels aside, the movement is thriving. Nearly four out of 10 (38 percent) politically engaged Democrats are consistent liberals. That's a from just 8 percent dating back to 1994, Pew notes.

A record high 23 percent of of American described themselves as "liberal" in 2013 Gallup polls, a sign the word may be shedding its negative connotations. But as the Pew poll shows, it has a way to go before it catches "conservative" in the way that people embrace it.

The Pew poll was conducted Jan.  23 through March 16 among a random national sample of 10,013 adults on landline and cellular phones with live interviewers.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.



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